On wombling…

Stourbridge Common – Image by Prisoner 5413 on Flickr and shared under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license

“What a great idea. I’m going to do something similar.”

“Do you have OCD or something?”

“You do it for free?!?”

“Thank you”

I get a wide range of comments from people for my “wombling” (as one friend affectionately refers to it). Every day I go for a 30 minute to 1 hour walk as part of ongoing therapy to regain strength in my legs and ankles, and while I started just walking (while listening to various audiobooks of Charles Dickens novels narrated by Martin Jarvis), I soon found myself wanting to do more with my time.

I live in a gorgeous area of Cambridge (not far from Stourbridge Common and near a lovely stretch of the the River Cam), but the area is often covered in litter – including obvious items such as sweet wrappers, alcohol bottles and newspapers, but also more random items such as shoes. I like green spaces, and I like shared spaces, but this litter detracts from them and makes them less pleasurable for everyone.

So on almost every walk I take two plastic bags and a pair of rubber gloves, and spend 15 minutes or so picking up litter (sorting it into recyclable material and rubbish), before disposing of it in one of the many bins around the area. I then continue with my walk and lose myself in the dulcet tones of Martin Jarvis.

The reactions I receive for this litter picking are varied. Some people stare at me like I’m an alien, and others stop to chat – with conversations ranging from the ideas of communal spaces to Charles Dickens and my preference for hearing his books spoken than reading them myself.

I’ve not made much of my wombling before; after all I do this partially to make the space more pleasant for me, but it ties into a broader narrative that I’ve been seeing in the media and on social media.

There have been a number of reports about people who are doing similar on beaches (See this news story, or this hashtag) – something I’m very fond of originally coming from Cornwall.

However, it’s not just the beaches that are shared spaces, rich in wildlife, and contain ecosystems that suffer from litter. Spaces such as greens, parks and woods are also in this category, and it would be great to see people who live in these spaces also helping to tackle the problem of litter.

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