Beauty spots have never been so busy. The now dwindling lockdown coupled with warm weather has encouraged masses of people to explore their local areas with a sense of wonder, venturing into parks, beaches and up hills with picnics in tow.
Over the past few weeks social media has been flooded with images of blue skies, waterfalls and canals as families and friends reunite for the first time since March.
But there’s one thing Instagram users have cleverly edited out of their posts before sharing them with the world: the litter.
It is everywhere. In Ilkley residents shared their outrage after visitors left used toilet roll and nappies on the banks of the town’s River Wharfe. In Formby it was a similar story, with people leaving empty cans, food wrappers and cool boxes strewn on the sand. In the Peak District whole bin bags full of rubbish were left piled up at the Stepping Stones of Dovedale.
On my own walks recently I’ve noticed bins overflowing, disposable barbecues left behind and dog poo bags hanging off branches because there’s no room in the bins.
The simple answer is that people should just take their rubbish home with them. Obviously that’s what people should do to preserve and respect areas of natural beauty – they should take their wrappers, their bottles and their fag ends home and put them in their own bins.
But you can’t always rely on people to do good things. The thing about human beings is they’re not always predisposed to kindness and consideration for other people, or the environment.
For every person heading out to their local park with a plastic bag and a litter picker there are usually 10 more carelessly abandoning their picnic spot and leaving an incriminating pile of crisp packets and pork pie wrappers in their wake.
It’s filthy and inexcusable, but councils should have the resources to step in. Instead, a decade of local authority cuts has left parks and public spaces at the bottom of the list of priorities.
Our leisure time has been taken for granted. We exist in a culture that breeds us for the workplace. Lunch breaks are almost non-existent, our bank holidays are among the least frequent in Europe. Under normal circumstances most people don’t have time to go for picnics, and it’s reflected in the lack of investment.
Last week I spoke to a man who lives next to Chorlton Water Park, a nature reserve in south Manchester. During the past few weeks of good weather he’d had his car blocked in his driveway multiple times by visitors, and he was fed up of the litter. He told me about the good old days not too long ago, when wardens would keep check of the conservation area, making sure visitors were parking where they were supposed to and protecting the park from litter and vandalism.
But of course, in 2013 savage cuts from central government meant the majority of the Mersey Valley wardens lost their jobs, and the overflowing bins last week spoke one thousand words.
Much has been said about life after lockdown, about how we’ll spend more time outdoors, looking after wildlife and living less hectic lives. And maybe, in the new world, while we’re out having picnics and taking selfies, we could just take our litter home.