The modern day wombles keeping towns and cities tidy

The Gosport Wombles are cleaning up their town
The Gosport Wombles are cleaning up their town

There was once a time when littering was one of the most frowned upon things you could do.

The Keep Britain Tidy campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s drummed into the public how damaging littering is to the environment. 

The original Wombles performing on Top of the Pops in the 1970s

The original Wombles performing on Top of the Pops in the 1970s

But in the past few years, people’s instinct to put rubbish in the bin seems to have disappeared.

High streets are strewn with cigarette butts, plastic bottles and fast food wrappers, and in many cases they are dropped on the floor agonisingly close to a rubbish bin.

However, since David Attenborough brought plastic waste back into the limelight with his BBC television series Blue Planet II, people have started to pay more attention to what they are throwing away – as well as what they can do to make where they live a better place.

Beach cleans are thriving, with hundreds of people doing their part along Southsea seafront each month.

Cllr Graham Burgess representing the Gosport Wombles

Cllr Graham Burgess representing the Gosport Wombles

Now, individuals are showing that just one person can make a big difference.

The Gosport Wombles are a group of people, connected through social media, who pick up litter while going for their morning run, or while walking the dog around the block.

They work in the same vein as  Elisabeth Beresford’s fictional Wombles who kept Wimbledon Common clean and tidy. 

Each person does as much or as little as they want, posting on Facebook about where they have Wombled so that everyone is doing a different part of the town.

According to group member Nick Carter, it has really taken off – with hundreds of people signed up to the Gosport Wombles on Facebook.

He says: ‘It’s an old-fashioned idea that is being reinvented in the town.

‘When I was growing up it was just unacceptable to litter; we seem to have lost that common sense of putting rubbish in the bin, even though disposing of waste is now easier than ever.

‘With the likes of David Attenborough, the amount of rubbish we throw away has really come back into public focus, so it seems like a good time to push this in the right direction.

‘Everyone is able to do their bit and that can be as much or as little as they like; that’s where the Gosport Wombles come in. For us, tidying up our local area is strangely addictive – there’s a feeling of satisfaction that comes from doing something positive for the community.’

The results, Nick says, speak for themselves, as the coordination between the group allows them to cover more ground.

‘We have started to notice that the town is getting cleaner, just in the couple of months that we have been doing this.

‘The profile of plastic waste has really been elevated recently and the more we do to make people aware of it, the more we can inspire other people to get involved.’

Getting involved is also incredibly easy – all you need is a litterpicker and a bag to put your rubbish in.

Nick explains: ‘All people need to do is look after their own street.

‘If we all keep our own spaces tidy then that means the whole town will be clean – which makes life better for everyone.

‘With support from groups like The Final Straw Solent – who have given us all sorts of advice – and Gosport Borough Council which has provided us with litterpickers and so on, we’ve been able to really make a difference.’

But it’s not just in Gosport where people are tidying up their local area.

Monthly beach cleans have been taking place in Southsea for more than a year, organised by Southsea Beachwatch.

Sergio Di Dino believes that these beach cleans are making a real difference to where they live.

He says: ‘We have been doing beach cleans in Southsea for quite a while now, and usually end up seeing 100 people turn up to our monthly cleans.

‘I think the most we had at any one time was 400 people, which was amazing.

‘I think it’s great to see so many different groups from the community get involved with the beach cleans – people really understand just how big a difference one person can make now and are doing more on their own for their own community.

‘It's people from all walks of life – mothers coming down with their children, older residents doing something a bit different with their morning – it’s just a wonderful sight to have everyone doing their bit.’

This weekend itself sees the first Great Solent Beach Clean being held, with the goal of having the biggest beach clean the Solent has ever seen.

Bianca Carr, co-founder of the campaign, said: ‘The response we have had already on social media has been incredible – there are so many people signed up for the event and it is genuinely wonderful to see so much interest in taking the fight to single-use plastics.

‘There is obviously more that we need to do to tackle plastic waste – recycling and reusing more stuff, teaching children about what plastic does to our oceans and so on – but these beach cleans really do make a huge impact on our area.’

With the battle against plastic waste well and truly in full swing, campaigners are now calling upon everyone to do their bit, no matter where they are and no matter how much or little they do.

Bianca said: ‘Everybody is getting involved with this sort of thing now.

‘They tend to have other things to do but have dedicated their time to do something positive – and that is really quite beautiful.’

Search for Gosport Wombles on Facebook.

For beach clean details go to mcsuk.org.