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The Milford Riviera

John Leyland and the Belper-Milford Massive report with words and pictures from their evening womble this week down the Derwent at Milford.

As COVID restrictions have eased it has become possible to carry out our first “organised” river clean for a while. With our group size limited to 6 and the decision made not to complicate things with shuttles we decided to concentrate on spots where we could launch and haul out at the same spot. We selected to hit the stretch upstream of Milford, getting on above the weir at a spot affectionally known as Glo-worm after the factory that used to occupy the site now a collection of river side residences and a small business centre.

The balmy summer weather had attracted other crowds to the “Milford Riviera” the name coined by locals for the concrete beach at the foot of the weir. Its great to see people enjoying the river and its recreational use should be a driver to improve water quality but it’s disappointing that folk do not take their waste home for disposal and recycling. At least they had bagged it up and largely removed it from the riverside but next to a bin is still littering. The council bins are designed for incidental waste rather than the fallout from a riverside picnic or drinks party its also worth noting that the resources to “hand pick’ recyclables from this inevitably mixed waste are limited so its so much better to take stuff home for separation in your domestic waste streams.

Anyway, back to the river! We were a mixed flotilla comprising Canadian canoes, SUPs and a lone kayak – all bases covered! We made our way upstream to the Goods Road footbridge to start the pick. The upstream paddle was used to catch-up having not seen other paddlers since March, and to eyeball key waste hotspots for attention of the return trip. There were a couple of friendly anglers and pleasure seekers enjoying the summer evenings heady aromas. Both demographics nodded approval when we told them that we were on a river clean.

Turning at the footbridge, “let the scavenge begin!”. The water quickly yielded a plastic patio chair which briefly sat on the deck of my board before being transferred to the Derwent Warrior in its duty as river pack horse. We set into the usual grind of picking the ever-present wet wipes and plastic bags from branches metres above the current water line.

Just downstream of the foot bridge was a fallen willow tree which acts as a real “catcher’s mitt” for the river’s flotsam and jetsam. Overshadowing the collection of balls, bottles, cans etc amongst the thick island over vegetation upstream of the tree was the lid of a large industrial wheelie bin. This was about a metre out of the water, but the SUP was able to slide across the other waste giving me a route into the tree’s limbs. From here I was able to man handle the cumbersome (though surprisingly light) lid with help from Pedro to straddle the gunwales of his Canadian. The remainder of the tree’s accumulation was picked and loaded before continuing downstream with half the group river left and half river right.

The warm evening was welcome but sweaty and the work is by no means pleasant but feeling that something is being achieved is rewarding none the less. This section suffers from being immediately downstream of Belper sewage works discharge point. This evening there was no evidence of the works, no odour and no discernible change in water quality. That said the works were definitely impacted by the floods in late 2019 and made uncontrolled discharges and or suffered flood water invasion. This means that raw sewerage was discharged direct to the river, the outcome being the accumulations of wet wipes and other sanitary items within the flood debris. Flushable is a misnomer – toilet paper and poo are the only solid flushables!

The vegetation and overgrowth of this time of year does increase the challenge of litter picking in summer and we weren’t able to address the riverside fence lines that have strained and caught significant waste. That said we definitely made a tangible improvement and it was a productive evening. Major items included a steel frame, roadworks barriers, cubic metre bulk agricultural additive bags (9), a bin lid and the mentioned previously flushables, unflushables and whydidyouthinkthatwasflusbles?

Snakey, Pedro, Mark, Tom, Howard and I were on the water for about 3 hours and yielded about a cubic m of waste which AVBC kindly picked up for disposal! Thanks All!

We see talk in the media about costal communities all over the world collecting plastic waste the same volume as a humpback whale or the amount a household produces in a year, but we see the same here as far inland as you can get in the UK! Let’s all do what we can to reduce this impact so in years to come it will be difficult to make rubbish sculptures!

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