COUNTY NEWS: Hundreds attend 'UK's biggest beach clean'

The organiser of what claims to be the UK's biggest beach clean is celebrating a successful event after hundreds turned out to make a Sussex beach spotless.

Georgina Stevens, 43, dreamt up the event to tie in with the launch of her children’s book Finn the Fortunate Tiger Shark and his Fantastic Friends, which she wrote to educate children about the dangers of plastics on our marine wildlife.

The 'world's biggest beach clean' took place on Shoreham Beach this afternoon. Picture: Sussex By Air

The 'world's biggest beach clean' took place on Shoreham Beach this afternoon. Picture: Sussex By Air

But little did she know that 900 people would register for the event, and more than 650 people, including many young families and children, descended on the beach today for the event. More than 180 bin bags of recycling and 100 bags of rubbish were collected, and among the more usual finds of bottles and polystyrene a fire extinguishers and a huge steel pole were discovered.

The organiser, from Old Fort Road, Shoreham, said she was ‘astonished’ by how it turned out. She said: “It was absolutely wonderful. We were astonished by the numbers at first, but then we realised how many people care about the issue.”

The group was split in two, with half the party starting at Widewater Lagoon at 9.45am, cleaning eastwards, and the second group of volunteers meeting at 10.15am at Shoreham Fort,


cleaning westwards.

Jeremy Irons with Georgina Stevens, organiser of the 'world's biggest beach clean' held in Shoreham. The actor recorded the audiobook for her children's story

Jeremy Irons with Georgina Stevens, organiser of the 'world's biggest beach clean' held in Shoreham. The actor recorded the audiobook for her children's story

Splitting into teams of 20 or 30, they scoured the beach in 200m strips for bottles and other large plastic waste, as well as microplastic - broken-down pieces of plastic worn away over time, which end up in our food chain when they are eaten by fish. Plastic bags were important to collect, as they can be mistaken in the water for jellyfish by predators such as small sharks who then die of starvation because their stomachs are clogged with plastic.

Once they were done, the group met in the middle at Beach Green in Shoreham to celebrate their achievements. The pie company Higgidy supplied free sausage and vegetarian rolls for the cleaners, with Infinity Foods and Cawston Press also on hand to supply food and drink for free.

Children also built a large shark out of plastic toys to get them thinking about how they impact the environment. Georgina was inspired to write her book, which tells the tale of a tiger shark who gets sick after swallowing plastic, as a way to educate her son Rafael, two, who was also on-hand today with a grabber to pick up recycling. Actor Jeremy Irons endorsed the tale by recording the audiobook. Click here to read more.

At the end of the event, those involved formed the words ‘act now’ with their bodies which was photographed from the sky to send a message to the government about how many people care about the issue.

The organiser credited Blue Planet II and its powerful message about ocean plastics with galvanising people to act. She said: “It made the connection so clear between the single-use plastics we throw away and the large sharks, whales and turtles ingesting this plastic. People love these creatures and know they are in turmoil, and it really struck a chord - instead of feeling guilty, people wanted to do something, and a beach clean was a great way to do it.”

Before becoming a children’s author, the mother-of-one worked as a sustainability consultant for 20 years with companies such as Marks and Spencer and the Virgin group.

But she said she got ‘fed up’ with waiting for companies to change their policies, and felt it was time to take matters into her own hands. She said: “I believe the power lies with people, not just the companies. I think we are led to believe they are the powerful ones, but I believe we hold the power.”

She added: “If we all look with new eyes at what we buy each day, and start to look for those bits of single use plastic that we don’t need, and start to buy products with less plastic, from retailers who are trying hard on this issue, then it sends a very strong message to the retailers to try harder on this issue. And if nothing else, you can always just leave the packaging at the till point.

“These small acts make a big impact if everyone does them when they can. And it sends a message to Government too, to let them know that we want them to act now and not delay the action until 2042”

Georgina believed today’s event was the biggest single beach clean in the UK – but it came short of the 7,000 schoolchildren who cleaned a beach in Los Angeles, which she said holds the world record.

The profits from Georgina’s book sales will go to Greenpeace and the Social Plastic Foundation. Click here to buy it.