Updated: Jul 15
Today marks a big day for us at Trash Free Trails. One of those that feels like a giant leap along the road to reaching our mission of reducing single-use pollution on our trails and wild places by 75% by 2025 and (re)connecting people with nature through purposeful adventure. Today we are publishing, in association with Bosch eBike Systems and Bangor University, the State of Our Trails Report (SoOTR) – Baseline Study. The study examines the prevalence and impacts of single-use pollution on terrestrial ecosystems and provides the foundations for a groundbreaking 5-year research project. So, in reality, it's less of a giant leap and more a culmination of thousands of small steps, made by us and you, our TRASHMOB.
The joy of maps.
Initially, we have published a summary of the report and its findings in the format of a map. (With the full report going live shortly. Watch this space). We love the way that a trusty map can be a glorious combination of inspiration, information and instruction in a way that not many other inanimate objects can. In the right hands, a map can tell us where we are, how to reach our destination and warn us of the obstacles on the way: and that’s exactly what the SoOTR does.
Geeking out over the data.
At its heart, the SoOTR is the analysis of the data provided by you, the citizen scientists of our TRASHMOB, every time you have used the report (LINK) function on our website to tell us exactly what you found on your trail cleans over the last year. We have pulled together all that information, from the quantity of single use pollution (SUP) collected to distances covered and analysed it with the help of the incredibly talented Becky from Ploterre [link to Insta or website]. Becky specialises in using mathematics and data to explore the natural world and translates hard numbers into informative, engaging art. Take inspiration from the contour lines Becky has plotted patterns and correlations based on the survey results.
Before we go on, let’s take a moment to think appreciate that every piece of data that shapes the contours and lines of the map was submitted by a TRASHMOB member: a volunteer, who not only took the time to leave a positive trace on their part of the world, but also followed the nine steps in our Do it Ourselves Toolkit and reported their actions to us. For that alone we are hugely thankful. Just take a moment to think about what those individual numbers mean. They are the energy gel sachets, plastic bottles and discarded innertubes and other Single Use Pollution (SUP) that would still be on our trails and in our wild places were it not for the riders, runners and roamers that make up our volunteer community. Together, we are making an impact.
The headline State of Our Trails stats were:
no. of reports submitted .............................316
% of reports that recycled ............................73.4%
% of reports from Scotland ............................9.4%
% of reports from England...........................80.2%
% of reports from Wales ................................6.8%
% of reports from other countries....................3.6%
items of trash collected ..........................20,857
% of trash identified as SUP .........................70.2%
total volunteer time spent ..........722 hours 0 minutes
average time spent ....................2 hours 21 minutes
total distance covered ..............................2,861km
average distance covered .............................9.3km
Why is a report so important to us?
As an organisation that is all about action it might seem a little strange that we are getting so excited about a report. And while we are proud of the hard work that took us this far, we are more excited about what we can do next.
As the name suggests, the SoOTR – Baseline Study gives us a, er, baseline. We can go back and look at those figures each year and compare how our and your hard work is making a difference. It is a fundamental measure of our success; and it is the first time anyone in the world has conducted this kind of survey on a trail environment.
It also acts as a sense check for us: are we comfortable our overall approach is working? Then we can use our interpretations of the data to plot our course forwards.
The Map and the entire report (which will be available online in the next week or so) go into much more detail about this, but here’s some of the key findings and actions we are tackling as a result.
Better connectedness with the outdoors:
Clearing trash drives emotional responses: our survey charts the sense of sadness felt by participants when confronted with litter through to the feelings of accomplishment and connectedness after a trail clean. Our positive calls to action build people’s connection with outdoor places through purposeful adventure.
We are riders, runners and roamers:
We act as a diverse community and harness the benefits of doing so. The broad correlations between operating trail cleans in groups and an increase in the total quantity of litter collected per person and resultant feelings of wellbeing demonstrate the importance of our network of A-TEAM members who will be organising regular trail cleans in their area. Where runners, riders and roamers came together, their work made an even larger impact. Trash Free Trails is a catalyst to bring together diverse communities of outdoors users to work on a shared goal; and leave behind a cared-for environment as a result.
In the future we will focus our efforts on working with people that we haven’t yet reached. That will include those who don’t typically access the outdoors. That means more TRASHMOB Academies, working closely with organisations like Forestry England and National Resources Wales to nurture “first timers” into the outdoors and build their sense of connectedness and stewardship over their newly discovered wild places. We will also work with some of the companies whose products make up the commonly found SUP on our trails: work with, but also hold to account.
Our focus on SUP is the right one. It made up the overwhelming majority of the trash reported. There is currently only the most basic understanding of the potential harm this may be doing to the environment, but in the future we will be able to contribute to furthering this. In the meantime, we can feel confident that we and our volunteers are having a positive impact.
We will use the good practice developed in marine and freshwater environments to create the first trail litter monitoring framework and “optimal” trail clean methodology. That means that anyone around the world can contribute to the body of science we are building. Understanding and quantifying the impact that SUP has on ecosystems is so important to us. So, we will conduct ecological surveys, in partnership with local trail groups, schools and universities, in order to better understand that impact; and the environmental benefit of removing it.
Our immediate next steps are:
Presenting this report to the cycling industry and media at this first ever State of Our Trails Summit, positively challenging them to do even more to protect our trails and wild places.
Launching the full TRASHMOB Academy programme, with the aim of engaging young people in 50 schools across the UK (Read more HERE).
Beginning the second phase of the State of Our Trails Report project, in partnership with Bangor University, by calling for 'Citizen Science Crews', at 10 locations to commit to conducting quarterly trail pollution surveys until 2023.
Does this sound like something you'd like to join-in with? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org :)
In short, we will do more of what we are doing now, but better.
We will be able to achieve some of the things we could only dream of even a year ago. And we will do this while acting as a massive, small organisation. That’s not an oxymoron. There are, and will remain, relatively few people who are full time employees of Trash Free Trails. But, we will make the most of our growing volunteer base, and the power of citizen science where we can. As more and more people reconnect with their wild places, they will become natural custodians and we will give them the tools, guidance and support to facilitate this stewardship.
If you want to geek out over the data and study (it even has academic references and everything) in all its glory, you’ll be delighted to know that the full, unabridged, report will be ready HERE SOON