It’s not just crunchy bottles and packets either. “We are often absolutely flabbergasted by what we find,” says Norman Warm, 60, who runs BHASSEXPLORE, a project that aims to clear sea debris along the east coast of Sussex. “I knew there was a lot of plastic there. I didn’t realize how much.

BHASSEXPLORE was launched during the first lockdown as ‘something to do’, and since then over 200 volunteers have joined us. The group works at the base of the cliffs at Cuckmere Haven in Holywell, clearing wild and often dangerous areas where rubbish has accumulated. over the decades. This week, the group reached a milestone: 30 tonnes of waste collected.

Norman Warm and his volunteers bagged 30 tonnes of waste from the fishing industry. Picture: provided

They discovered phones from the 80s and packaging for brands that no longer exist, when they could practically create a museum out of all the shoes they have packaged. Given the remoteness they travel, the vast majority are debris from the fishing industry pulled from the sea, such as nets and ropes. So many strings.

Then there are the common offenders. “At Cuckmere Haven, which is a river estuary, there is a pumphouse just up the river, and there are sanitary products, sanctuary pads, tampon applicators, endless cotton swabs” , explains Warm.

It’s an issue that made headlines over the past week when beaches in the south east, including in East Sussex, were closed after sewage spilled into the sea. Raw waste often contains sanitary products, as well as wet wipes and anything that goes down the toilet. Due to poor infrastructure, when the UK faces extreme weather conditions such as heavy rain, water companies dump sewage into the sea to prevent it from backing up into homes and businesses . However, wastewater is also frequently discharged into the sea under normal conditions.

Following last week’s sewage spills, Southern Water, one of the companies responsible, said that while the majority of material disposed of via stormwater discharges was rainwater, it was “pioneering ‘a new approach’.

People are told to avoid the sea during sewage dumps, but that doesn’t stop Warm and his team from getting their hands dirty. “We get stuck and collect everything in bags,” he says. “It’s not pleasant, of course. But it makes me wonder – how are they doing? How could they legally dump this stuff on our shores? »

Around 200 volunteers have joined BHASSEXPLORE since 2020. Image: Supplied

It’s the “iconic” coastline and the wildlife found there that allow Warm to do what he does, but he knows he has a battle to fight.

“My motivation is for the sea life, the birds, the wildlife – to clean up the habitats that we share these places with. You continually see found birds with stomachs full of plastic,” he says. “At Cuckmere Haven, we found goose poop and swan poo filled with brightly colored plastic. Swans ingest it.

More and more people like Warm are starting to take notice of the plight of our beaches. Joseph Hogg, a 20-year-old based in Folkestone, founded Folkestone Cleanup last month, just weeks after the birth of his son. “I want him to grow up in a place where people care, and that’s not an absolute tip,” he says.

He was shocked by the state of Folkestone beach after the heatwave, watching embers from barbecues thrown into bags, melting plastic into the sand. He founded the group by accident, after going for a walk in the evening and returning four hours later with bags full of trash. “It’s not a very nice place to live when there’s litter all over the ground and all over the beaches.”

Despite his own actions and his group’s plans for expansion, Hogg isn’t optimistic about the future. As the cost of living crisis rages this winter, he worries people won’t have the capacity to care.

“It’s going to start a negative feedback loop of people going out and stopping caring, because they don’t have any money in their pockets, they don’t have any incentive to take care of the environment and they have no incentive to look after anything,” he says. “I’m not an eco-warrior, but I’m pretty worried about the future. Not just my son, but the next generation. We don’t leave a good legacy.

However, there are reasons to remain hopeful. In September, the MCS Great British Beach Clean is back, with 201 events held across the country and 1,350 volunteers already signed up, including 300 in the last week alone. Other groups, like Warm’s, have no intention of slowing down.

“We have plans to continue doing extreme coastal clearances and try to encourage other people to do the same,” he says. “It kept me going for the last three years, kept me out of trouble.

“When you have a bunch of people and you’ve done all this cleaning, at the end of the day you just sit down and have a cider or something and you’re like, well, that was a good day. “

The Marine Conservation Society Beach Cleanup will take place nationwide from Friday, September 16 through Sunday, September 25.

“The Great British Beach Clean is a great way to get involved, to get this litter off the beaches and directly eliminate this threat, but also record what you find,” says Lizzie Prior, MCS’s Beachwatch Program Manager. . “You are involved in something where you collect meaningful data that is used to push for change and stop the waste from getting there in the first place.”

Find a beach cleanup near you or organize your own.