Tonnes of harmful plastic removed from Beachy Head

A major milestone has been passed in an ambitious project to clear plastic debris from underneath the cliffs at Beachy Head and prevent it from polluting the sea.

Tuesday, 11th August 2020, 11:11 am
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Members of the Maritime Volunteer Service’s Eastbourne unit transported tonnes of the waste from an inaccessible cove near the landmark to Sovereign Harbour for proper disposal following a plea from Eastbourne campaigner Norm Penney, the founder of Beachy Head and Seven Sisters Extreme Plastic Objects Removal – known as BHASSExplore – for help.

Over the past few months Mr Penney and a small team of volunteer helpers have worked hard to collect and bag plastic waste washed up under the cliffs. Much of it had weathered and started to break down into small particles which, say the campaigners, would have gone back into and polluted the sea.

By June the group had collected more than 300 bin bags of plastic at one site and with the only way to bring it back to dispose of it by sea, East Sussex Sovereign Harbour MVS Unit, part of a UK-wide nautical training and community support charity, sailed the Eastbourne-based vessel East Sussex 1 to the location last Thursday.

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David Hughes from the unit said, “With a crew of eight on board, the 17 metre long former Royal Navy Harbour launch used the rising tide to approach the beach and anchor a short distance off.

“A crew member then took one of ES1’s small dinghies to the beach, towing a long line that was then used to pull batches of large builders’ bags to the anchored launch.

The bags were packed with a wide variety of plastic waste including expanded polystyrene packing, plastic bottles, fishing nets and lines, ropes and buoys.

“Once safely on board the bags were secured and covered in nets for the short trip to Sovereign Harbour. On Friday morning more MVS members assembled by the vessel and quickly took the bags to waiting Environment First vans that had been organised by Eastbourne Borough Council to remove the bags to a disposal facility. There were about 35 bags, amounting to several tonnes of plastic that had been permanently taken out of the marine environment.”

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Mr Hughes said the unit was pleased to have been of help.

He said, “Covid-19 has meant we have been unable to carry out our normal programme of youth group training this summer. However this plastics removal project has given us a really worthwhile task which has also served to hone our our seamanship skills. The pandemic was an added complication for this operation but ES1 is large enough to be Covid-secure and for the crew to socially distance.

“Close under the cliffs at Beachy Head is not where I would normally want to venture. However when I saw Mr Penney’s appeal for a boat I thought we could help out. I visited the site at low water and it was clear that an operation to float the bags off the beach was feasible. Our two organisations worked very closely together to achieve this successful outcome. Weather conditions were perfect and the whole operation went smoothly, largely thanks to the excellent teamwork and seamanship displayed by our MVS volunteers.”

Mr Hughes paid tribute to Mr Penney’s “vital role” in tackling a problem that had built up over many years.

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He said, “Norm realised the extent of the build up of plastic under the iconic cliffs between Eastbourne and Seaford earlier this year and set up BHASSExplore. He saw that over the past 50years or more all kinds of plastic flotsam and jetsam had found their way into the jagged rock pools and onto remote coves, pushed there by the relentless tides and frequent storms.

“Norm made it his personal and BHASSExplore’s mission to locate, document and remove as much of this detritus as humanly possible. He has done a brilliant job and the MVS is happy to have been able to help and we are prepared to continue to assist in this way.

“I would like to thank the many people that helped in this project in various ways, including Martin Griffin of Sussex Blast Cleaning which repainted the lighthouse back in 2013.

“Also Eastbourne council officers have given their full support to this project and ensured the unwanted plastic will now be disposed of in a proper manner. In addition I’m very grateful to Premier Marinas for facilitating the landing of the bags at Sovereign Harbour.

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“I also really appreciate the presence in the area of the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority’s patrol vessel Watchful while we were working off the beach and her skipper Charlie Hubbard’s offer of assistance if required.”

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