Cal Major's River Expedition

Cal Major's River Expedition

To continue our efforts to tackle single-use plastic our Environmental Ambassador, Cal Major, is embarked on an exciting expedition from 9th September to the 16th September exploring the course of plastic from source to sea along the River Severn, and the relationship between our lives inland and the oceans.

Why we took part in Cal's expedition?

Cal’s aim was to connect the dots between the plastic used on land and that in the ocean through education, and to consequently empower small changes in behaviour to positively affect the marine litter crisis, reconnecting people to nature on our doorsteps.

Rivers provide a perfect opportunity to do all of these - demonstrating our link between actions on land and impacts in the oceans, via the nature superhighways flowing through our country to the ocean.

Where was the expedition?

The River Severn is the longest river in the UK at 354km, and it flows through Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, and the cities of Shrewsbury, Worcester and Gloucester.

Cal carried out her expedition by stand up paddleboarding the River Severn from its first navigable point on the Welsh/English border out to sea.

Read the round-up of the expedition from Cal herself!

I’ve finished paddling the River Severn! Yesterday I was greeted at Sharpness by the Severn Area Rescue Association, who helped recover a freezer that I’d pulled out of the water, and carried for 20km on my board. They also then helped recover me and my board from the infamous mud along the banks of the Severn.

What an incredible journey it’s been, and thank you for following along! I hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of the journey and have learnt and felt inspired to help protect our waterways and ocean from the threat of plastic pollution.

Yesterday’s 34km took the total mileage to 240km, and with yesterday’s freezer, the total amount of rubbish I collected from the river in one week exceeded my body weight - an estimated 70kg of rubbish no longer on its journey out to sea.

Aside from freezers, the three most common things I found were:

  • Plastic bottles - especially water bottles! This is one of the simplest things we can avoid - with safe, clean and free tap water in the UK, an easy and cost-saving solution is to commit to using a refillable bottle.
  • Plastic bags - as we heard earlier in the week, the Midcounties Co-op have switched to compostable carrier bags, but the better option is still to avoid single-use bags where we can.
  • Flushed items such as baby wipes, menstrual pads and pantyliners - my absolute least favourite things to pull out of trees, but unfortunately all too common. Remember only the three Ps should be flushed down the loo! (I’ll let you guess what they are!). There are also lots of reusable bathroom products on the market now.

One of the most unexpected results of the journey personally was how utterly glorious the river was, so full of wildlife, with kingfishers, herons, ducks and buzzards an almost daily sighting. The upper part of the river felt so wild, so untouched by humans, and the plastic situation there reflected that with mostly agricultural waste (such as hay bale wraps) the only plastic I found. On approach to, and after, the towns and cities, the river felt tamed and sluggish, the flow hampered by concrete walls and locks, and single-use plastic more and more common. I hadn't expected to be so affected by this and found it heartbreaking to think that this incredible, powerful, important ecosystem was being so affected by us humans, but then I haven’t spent much time around rivers and so why should I have felt a connection to it until then? I highly encourage you to find some time to spend by the River Severn, or a river near to you, somewhere a little bit remote if you can, and see how being there makes you feel. Does your head feel clearer, your heart a little fuller? Do you feel more determined to protect it?

The journey I took was following plastic from inland out to sea, and watching it bob along with the flow of the river on its journey to the ocean, where it would likely be unimpeded in its harm to the marine environment, really brought home to me how the Marine Litter Crisis needs to be viewed more broadly than just affecting the ocean. It begins inland, and it affects our inland waterways too, and the great news is that that means we can ALL be a part of helping to change it.

I’ve met some absolutely lovely people along the way - thank you to everyone who got on the water with me, cheered me from the side of the river, or helped me drag a freezer from the muddy banks. Thank you to all of you for following along on social media or via these blogs, and for EVERYTHING you’re doing to help protect our special blue spaces. Huge thanks to my partner James who filmed and photographed the expedition, fed me tea and cake at strategic locations and picked me up each evening when I was too tired and sore to go any further. Of course a huge thank you to the Midcounties Co-operative for supporting this expedition, and for their dedication to protect our natural environment and our people in it. I know that together we really can make a difference.