By Siobhán Cronin and Emma Connolly
DESPITE increased awareness of the environment and the importance of looking after our local areas, the problem of litter seems to be getting worse.
That is the feeling being aired on various social media sites by those at the coalface: in coastal communities, tourist towns and members of groups trying to keep the problem at bay in West Cork.
And, if the numbers of photographs of litter that we are receiving into the Star offices are any indication, their comments are justified.
In the past fortnight alone, we have received photos of rubbish, both discarded and collected, from a forest in Bandon, at a recycling unit in Schull, on Church Bay near Crosshaven, and bags of catering waste floating in the sea in Beara.
We were also made aware of overflowing bins in Clonakilty and discarded barbeques and associated rubbish in the grounds of Liss Ard estate outside Skibbereen.
The latter incident makes one wonder what goes through the mind of someone who wants to enjoy the beautiful environs of a wooded park to have their al fresco dining experience, but then doesn’t see the irony of leaving their rubbish behind so nobody else can enjoy that same experience.
It is the ultimate in arrogance and stupidity. But, unfortunately, it’s becoming commonplace now.
For the past few years The Southern Star has launched a campaign each spring to highlight, not just illegal dumping and fly-tipping, but the huge amount of community work that goes into cleaning up after our filthy citizens who don’t care about our environment.
And yet when we recently highlighted a beach strewn with litter after a students’ beach party, we were criticised because the teenagers had returned later to clean up after them.
It didn’t seem to occur to any parents that maybe the teens could have brought bags or boxes with them and binned the refuse as they went along, rather than leaving the area in that state. Broken bottles cannot be repaired and it’s difficult to retrieve every tiny piece of glass shard in a clean-up. The following day was a busy one at the beach, given the warm weather at the time, and tiny feet don’t notice glass shards in thick grass – until it’s too late.
In the Liss Ard incident, just last week, the manager of the estate was clearly annoyed when he spoke to The Southern Star about what he had found in the stunning beauty spot, on private grounds, but regularly opened up to the public by the owners.
Aidan Shannon told us how members of the public recently left the area near their lake strewn with food and barbeque debris, as well as items of clothing (see above).
The mess was discovered by a guest staying on the estate, said Aidan.
‘It was ridiculous – these people could actually have set fire to the place. The BBQ was there and there was uncooked food left thrown around the place and in the lake,’ he said.
This was an extreme example of the litter scourge they’re faced with, which sees staff having to pick up plastic bottles and wrappers every time they open to the public.
‘We have a picnic area and encourage that activity, but only if people take their litter home. We don’t have plastic bins on the estate as they wouldn’t look attractive in our gardens and estate, but this means our staff are constantly having to pick up after people,’ he said.
On social media he added: ‘We put such a massive effort into keeping our grounds at such a high standard and it saddens us to have to deal with this behaviour. Please do not leave litter on the ground … at all times litter is prohibited.’
It was a similar situation at Church Bay near Crosshaven, where littering led local Cllr Audrey Buckley to comment on her Facebook page: ‘As someone who is involved with Tidy Towns and the Clean Coast programmes for years, why does it seem like this summer the litter on the beaches is worse? I am working with the environmental department, sending them photos, as I honestly think they have no idea what we as local residents have to put up with each summer living by the sea. Something has to be done, we as a society are not listening. We need litter wardens, more access to bins and to create more awareness.’
Cllr Buckley’s call regarding bins was echoed by many people commenting on her post – along with a call for toilets in busy beauty spots like Myrtleville. But Cork County Council has stated in the past that bins in areas like beaches and other scenic locations were taken away in many instances, because of abuse by the public who were using them to put their weekly domestic refuse into them and clogging them up.
Yet we will always have a few ‘good Samaritans’ to restore some balance. Recently, Robert Belcher and his kids cleaned up a forested area near Bandon Golf Club after finding it covered in plastic bottles and other discarded items.
So, it seems, we must rely on the goodness of the public in order to keep our beaches and forests tidy. But, as we have seen in recent years, that goodness is rare and becoming increasingly so.
It seems education might be the only way to go. But, like plastic in the sea, will it become a case of ‘too little, too late’ when our tourism industry has already died?