A rubbish weekend in the Cairngorms

Litter picking in the Cairngorms. Real3Peaks Challenge

The litter pickers, minus Kirsty, who took the photo.

Just back from the hills after taking part in my first Real3Peaks Challenge litter pick, leaving Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm a cleaner place.

What started five years ago as an event clearing up Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis expanded last year to cover more hills and this year will cover 15 events, most happening next weekend, with teams of volunteers picking up all the litter they can find.

After volunteering to take part I found myself volunteered to organise the Macdui/Cairn Gorm event. We ended up with a group of just 5 people and one dog, which is small by the standards of Ben Nevis, but it was gratifying to note that a bigger groups would only have resulted in people fighting over pits of rubbish, for, in the whole day, we found just 3.5 kg. That’s still, as some have pointed out, too much, but a lot less than on most other targeted hills.

We started from the Coire Cas car park, armed with litter pickers and bin bags and went out across the bottom of the Northern Corries to take the Lurchers’ path up onto the plateau and into the cloud. By the top of Macdui we were sub-zero, with remnants of last week’s snow hanging on in sheltered corners, and after doing a tour of the stone wind shelters we retired to the Sappers’ Bothy for some shelter from the wind – not strong, but biting – while we ate lunch.

Litter picking volunteers on Ben Macdui, Cairngorms. Real3Peaks Challenge

The happy crew sheltering in the Sappers’ Bothy. Andy McNicoll, Tim Hall (with Moray the dog), Russ Baum and Kirsty Ritson

Then there was another tour of the summit area before, the sky clearing, we headed back north, this time following the path along the top of the Northern Corries and up onto Cairn Gorm, where we found refreshingly little rubbish before descending by Windy Ridge.

The easy-to-carry 3.5kg we gathered was heartening to a degree, but any complacency was destroyed just half an hour later as I parked the car near Glenmore Lodge to walk in to Ryvoan Bothy for a night’s kip before heading home. On the short walk in – about 3km – I was depressed by the amount of rubbish I saw. I’d no bag to hand then, but went prepared as I walked out in the morning, collecting a large carrier bag-full of tissues, sweetie wrappers, plastic bottles and drink cans – far more metre for metre than we’d found on the plateau.

So is it a depressing picture? I really don’t know.

Certainly there seems to be more and more rubbish littered around our hills and glens. When I walk in and out from Corrour and Bob Scott’s Bothies, which I do often, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t pick up rubbish on the way, and of course, there’s the perennial problem of fol leaving rubbish in bothies.

But there does seem to be growing awareness of the problem. As we walked out and back to Macdui on Saturday we explained to everyone who would listen what we were doing and all recognised and deplored the need for it.

But what’s really needed – apart from for people to stop leaving rubbish – is for more people to start picking up.

So make an effort. If you were in your own home and saw a biscuit wrapper lying on the floor you’d pick it up without thinking about it. Yet out in the hills, where we presumably go to get into nature and take pleasure in unspoiled nature, you just walk past. It would be the simplest matter to bend over and pick it up and stuff it in a bag – or even those netting side pockets most rucksacks have these days.

I know, it’s not easy sometimes. When I decided to start picking up bits and pieces I found I would stop when other people were about. Why? Was I embarrassed? Why should anyone be embarrassed to be seen picking up rubbish to make the place better for everyone?

It’s progress that people are talking about it more, but it’ll be real progress when picking up litter becomes natural for everyone and ceases to be something worthy of note.

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19 Responses to A rubbish weekend in the Cairngorms

  1. A job well done Neil. I had intended to join you but I’m on call this week.
    Will try and make your next three peaks challenge.
    Paul

    • Cheers Paul. To be honest, five was about right for the amount of rubbish we found, but I couldn’t help thinking about the areas we were missing, like down around the Shelter Stone. I think these events are great, not just in removing rubbish but also in awareness raising, but even more important is that people are inspired to start picking up all the time (and, of course, not to drop!)
      But… if I’m spared until next year… be happy to see you. 🙂

  2. Shared on social media Neil. The more we talk about it, the sooner we’ll see some progress. Thanks for starting the ball rolling.

  3. Dave says:

    Nice one Neil, heartened by your comments. As you say, if everyone did a ‘pick as you go’ there would be less lying around

  4. Allan Moore says:

    Well done Neil. Sadly, with the amount of day visitors passing Ryvoan, it’s not surprising at the amount of litter lying about. I often wonder what they do with their rubbish at home, would they just dump it at their feet?

  5. Danny Hawthorn says:

    Good job Neil and team…I was on expedition with a group of Explorer Scouts camping by Bob Scott’s Friday and Saturday, and up over Derry Cairngorm/ Ben Macdui. Sorry, we could have helped! In any case, we managed to take out a pile of rubbish from Bob Scott’s, including the offending nappy and wipes from the toilet which we managed to unblock! I know it’s nothing compared to what you have to endure regularly at Corrour, however hopefully a small contribution!! Can hopefully help out at the next one.

    • Every bit helps. Some of the litter I pick up is tiny fragments, but I go on the principle that if it’s big enough to see it’s big enough to pick up. Otherwise where do you set the limit? So thanks: what you and the guys did made a difference. Also, of the bog at Scottie’s had stayed blocked for a week it would have been a much bigger job to clear it.

  6. Danny Hawthorn says:

    Another point re litter in the hills…what’s your view on apple cores/ banana skins? My view is “leave no trace”, therefore carry everything out. However some other experienced hill folk I know have differing view….any thoughts?

  7. Alan says:

    Can I start out by saying that I thought about it but considered that a fat old slow git would probably have been more a hindrance than an asset! That said we walked in to Ryvoan a couple of weeks ago and saw no litter at all. Ryvoan itself was pristine which is more than can be said for it when we usually tramp in in February.
    Got to admire your spirit. I’d have jacked it long ago!

    • Hmph. Having a fat old slow git along might have meant that this old slow git wasn’t trailing at the back most of the day! 😀
      There was certainly plenty litter there this weekend, but perhaps I was seeing more because I had my eye in. Most of it catches in the heather at the sides of the track.

  8. I’m not sure I’d risk the disease risk of picking up without any kind of special gloves or picker. But I know how you feel having to use a picker all day – since my hip replacement, I have to use one just to get dressed!

    It’s awful that there’s so much litter but I have to say I can imagine how the tissues get scattered around as they often drop out of my pockets when I’m out walking and, obviously, I don’t notice at the time – I just notice when I go to get it and it’s gone.

    • Aye, we were all wearing gloves, and I had gloves on picking up all those tissues alongside the Ryvoan track. Tissues have all been used at one end or the other, so gloves are a must or I let them lie.

      • I know you were wearing gloves but, what I’m saying is that, I’m not going to be picking up anything until I have plastic gloves or a picker with me and I’m sure that’s why more people don’t pick up litter. You can easily get cut on cans and suchlike, especially if they’re scrunched. I’d come on a litter pick though… when I can walk again…

      • Ach most things are fine. Just tissues I usually leave. There’s a curious thing goes on in people’s heads: they’re happy enough to handle something until it’s designated as rubbish, then it becomes ‘dirty’ somehow.

      • it’s more that someone unknown has handled it… and you never know what they’ve got!

      • Ach, live dangerously. I’ve never died from picking up a sweetie wrapper yet.

      • Oh I’ve picked up sweetie wrappers… with sweets in ’em – if they’re still wrapped, I’ve eaten ’em too 😉

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