Sign up to be a River Guardian on River Medway

Residents living close to the Medway and its tributaries are being called on to take action against plastic pollution by joining a new River Guardians Team with the South East Rivers Trust (SERT). 

The waterways charity, which is providing free River Guardian kits, is asking people to adopt their local stretch of river and carry out regular litter picks alongside the banks to keep the water plastic free.

Equipment includes a litter picker, hoop, gloves and first bag, as well as information on how to report other issues affecting the river such as pollution.

Appeal for volunteers to protect Medway

The keenest River Guardians can sign up for extra equipment to monitor the types of litter found and become Plastic Champions.

Hundreds of volunteers will be needed to cover the 70-mile River Medway. The river network stretches from Ashdown Forest in Sussex through towns such as Tonbridge and Maidstone in Kent all the way to the Thames Estuary and English Channel.

SERT, which has a well-established army of about 120 River Guardians on three south London rivers, extended this work through its Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP) project – focused on the Medway. The PPP project was co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and has additional local support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

A River Guardian

A tonne of litter collected already

SERT’s PPP volunteers have taken huge strides to demonstrate the problem of plastic litter on the Medway and the Trust hopes communities will be inspired to follow suit by becoming River Guardians.

During a year of cleanups organised by SERT and various partners, nearly 400 volunteers have collected a tonne of litter from 17 cleanups – and a huge amount of it was plastic.

Volunteers sorted the items into types to identify the sources and pathways of litter to the Medway. Common items included single-use drinks bottles, their lids, plastic bags, sweet wrappers and other food packaging.

Also commonly found were coffee cups – which contain a plastic lining that makes them hard to recycle – cotton bud sticks, polystyrene and film plastic, plus many items that had broken down and could not be identified. 

A group of volunteers for SERT's Preventing Plastic Pollution project

A call to arms to act now

Gloria Francalanci, Plastics Project Manager at SERT, said: “We’ve seen through our Preventing Plastic Pollution cleanups just how passionate individuals and groups are when it comes to keeping plastic out of rivers. They are always shocked at the scale of the problem. 

“This is a real chance for everyone in the community to help stop plastic entering our rivers and harming wildlife. Statistics from the Preventing Plastic Pollution project show that eight million tonnes of plastic reach our oceans from rivers annually. With plastic production set to double in the next 20 years, we cannot be complacent.”

“We urge people to act now and rethink how they use plastic, particularly single-use items that can be swapped for more sustainable alternatives. We’re hoping to see many people join the River Guardian scheme and tackle the issue of plastic pollution with us.” 

*As of 29th March 2023, the opportunity to sign up as a River Guardian on the Medway has now closed.

A River Guardian volunteer

Plastic pollution statistics

From May 2021 to May 2022, 379 volunteers collected nearly a tonne of litter in 352 bags, plus bulky items. Volunteers sorted 60 bags into different types of litter and found these common items:

  • 1,000+ crisp packets and wrappers
  • 366 bottles and 573 lids
  • 182 cotton bud sticks
  • 175 plastic bags
  • 155 straws
  • 153 pieces of cutlery, trays and food pouches
  • 118 takeaway containers
  • 101 wetwipes
Volunteers categorise types of plastic litter they have found on a cleanup © South East Rivers Trust

About the Preventing Plastic Pollution project

The Preventing Plastic Pollution Project features 18 organisations from across France and England. It is funded by the EU INTERREG VA France (Channel) England Programme project and co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The South East Rivers Trust is leading the pilot on the River Medway with local support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

PPP statistics say that 

  • about 80% of the plastic in oceans travels there from rivers 
  • an estimated 50% of marine litter was designed for single-use
  • by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea
  • only 9% of plastic is ever recycled