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We have mail: Bill Bryson, President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England
Bill Bryson discusses the problems of - and efforts to clear away - the rubbish that blights our railway lines
I love travelling by train. Even now, the sensation of hurtling along at 125 miles per hour on the outside whilst experiencing comfort and an impressively smooth ride on the inside delights me. When I can forget about how much my ticket cost and when I'm fortunate enough to be sharing a carriage with people who realise that I have no interest in hearing about the tedious nature of their thoughts and lives from five rows away, then I enjoy it even more.
I recently had the happy opportunity to travel northwards along the east coast line. There are a number of moments along this route where I always put down whatever book has been absorbing me to appreciate fully the stunning views and the sheer engineering chutzpah of this incredible railway. I have a favourite place where the train flies along tracks that are precariously rooted to a barren, cliff-edged wilderness, with only a grey and vast sea beyond. It takes only minutes to pass through, always with a much-awaited glimpse of a mysterious and derelict stone building, standing alone and battered by the winds, but I always look forward to seeing it.
Of course, wherever I travel in England - and in Wales and Scotland too - there are always such wondrous scenes to behold. Which is why it makes me so cross when I see so many of them blighted by litter.
In my last dispatch, I promised to tell you more about Network Rail's attempts to do something about this unsightly problem. On July 4th it launched its new Clean Up Week, with 130 sites across its 30,000 mile network being cleared of litter, fly-tipping and graffiti. Over 400 Network Rail staff worked tirelessly, filling their specially designed 'wombling' [waste collection] bags with around 1,000 tonnes of unwelcome rubbish. 1,000 tonnes!!
Naturally, because the railway and its embankments can be dangerous, it's not always possible to involve other people in clean-up operations but there were five locations where Network Rail worked with local schools and the probation service, so that young people and ex-vandals could help out too.
Obviously one week a year isn't going to do the job of keeping the network clean and I understand Network Rail is developing a long-term strategy to solve some of these problems by working more closely with local councils, the police and local communities, as well as increasing its efforts to clean-up whilst other vital work is carried out.
I truly congratulate Network Rail on this work and welcome whole-heartedly their commitment to doing everything they can to keep their land free from litter.
You can also help them by reporting an area of railway land that's littered or fly-tipped to the friendly people at the Network Rail National Helpline by calling 08457 11 41 41 - whilst bracing yourself for the soul-sapping labyrinth of warnings about your call being monitored and lists of options you don't want (option three is in fact what you do want) - or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. They have stressed, quite forcefully in fact, that they really want to hear from people so they can take quick action.
Also, if there's an area of disused land near you that you'd like to help clean up and improve, contact the Helpline and ask to be put in touch with the Community Rail Partnership team - they specialise in working with people like you to get places looking much better.
Next year, Campaign to Protect Rural England will be working hard to get as many of our litterpicking groups as possible out there to support this Clean Up Week. Lots of litter ends up on the railway because it gets blown there from surrounding areas so, if Network Rail clears its land and we clear the land adjacent to its boundaries, then it should help keep the network cleaner for longer. Do let me know by email if you'd like to get involved and I can send you more details nearer the time.
Litter is also blown along the network by the through-draught of the trains - a complicated equation of air and the absence of air which I don't think we need to worry ourselves about here - so do remind people you know not to leave their litter lying around on the platform, even if it is artfully placed on a windowsill or beside a bench in the absence of bins. It is likely to get whipped up and tossed along the tracks before anyone has the chance to come and clear it away. Thank you.
There's more good news from Dorset too. The indefatigable Bob Kerr and Felicity McLaren from Dorchester Stop the Drop (both on the right hand side of the photo below) and a band of other volunteers from CPRE Dorset hosted an excellent event recently which aimed to find out what everybody - residents and tourists alike - in that fine county town liked about their local area.
The initiative was organised as part of Keep Britain Tidy's new Love Where You Live campaign, which will formally launch on 17th October. This campaign has been developed following CPRE's lobbying of the Government for a long-term, national anti-litter campaign which involves everybody - schools, manufacturers, retailers, councils and community groups, as well as you and me.
Bob, Felicity and their team found that an overwhelming majority of people who lived locally loved where they live, citing its proximity to the countryside and the sea as a wonderful thing. I'm sure anyone who has been fortunate enough to explore Chesil Beach, the Jurassic Coast and the rolling green hills inland would agree wholeheartedly.
Of course, they didn't let people get away without also talking about littering and handing out some useful pocket ashtrays for those who smoked and some ingenious papers that you can put your chewing gum in when you've finished. I know we have plenty more pocket ashtrays we can give away, so if you'd like one, maybe for yourself or someone you know, just drop me a line and I understand one will be magically despatched.
I am stunned and amazed that the next time I'm in touch will be to send you my festive wishes. How quickly time can pass. Thank you most sincerely for continuing to support all our work against litter. I really do find it heartening to know that I'm not alone in believing that we can and we must do something about it.
And now, before the nights really draw in and the snow prepares to fall, I'm going to go and enjoy some of this fantastically summery weather.
With every good wish,
Bill Bryson, President, Campaign to Protect Rural England
PS. I was contacted recently by three members of Soroptimist International Bilston & District. They have written an excellent report about why balloon releases are a disaster for the environment and what alternatives there are when you want to mark a special occasion. Do take note of their suggestions. They also set up a 'balloon cemetery' which showed that even biodegradable balloons hardly decompose at all over 18 months. I have done something very similar in my own back garden and can attest that much of what gets discarded as litter sadly appears to be indestructible, so I really do support the women of Bilston in their efforts to prevent litter becoming airborne.
13th October 2011