Volunteer interview “You can see you’ve made a difference”

At a River Wandle cleanup at the start of February, we caught up with Phil Stubbington, a regular South East Rivers Trust volunteer, to find out why he gets involved with our work.

At a stretch of river off Poulter Park in Carshalton, he was one of about 20 people who collected many bulky items and dozens of bags of rubbish.

Items collected ranged from wet wipes and clothing embedded in the berms and silt, to polystyrene, crisp packet, piping, a car number plate and wood that had been furniture.


When did you start volunteering with us?

I have been volunteering since the end of 2015. I started volunteering when the South East Rivers Trust was doing a litter pick in my local park, St George’s Park in Earlsfield.

I walked through it every day and saw the litter and wanted to help clear it up.

I thought it was important to volunteer mainly because it was an eyesore – when you walk past it every day you think ‘That needs to be cleaned up’.

Phil Stubbington collecting litter on the Wandle © South East Rivers Trust

Why should others get involved?

Certainly during the pandemic, when we did some small work, volunteering with the South East Rivers Trust was good for mental health.

It’s a chance to get out of the house and to meet people, to do something that keeps you fit.

At the end of the day, you can see the difference – the litter isn’t there anymore. The river looks visibly better.

I sometimes talk to people when we are doing river cleanups. On sections like today you can talk to people just walking by because they can see what you are doing. They are almost always grateful.

You do get quite a lot of people saying ‘thank you’ as they pass. If you are lucky, people offer to come along and join future picks.

Volunteers at Poulter Park © South East Rivers Trust

What are the most unusual items you have found over the years?

We pulled a gun out once – the less said about that the better! We pulled a saw out today. I don’t know how that ended up in the river.

I’ve pulled out more traffic signs, bits of cars and bits of bikes than you can care to think of – and fewer shopping trolleys than urban legend would have!

My message to people who throw things away and they end up in rivers is: Don’t do it! Somebody has to come and pick it up. Take it to the dump instead.

Litter collected from the Wandle © South East Rivers Trust

Over time, do you see a difference in the rivers where you have volunteered?

It was definitely getting better in the years before the pandemic. Since then we have not been able to do as much. You can see by the amount we have pulled out today just how much gets put in there if you don’t keep on top of it.

The River Wandle was definitely getting better before the pandemic.

I’ve walked the whole river. It’s a quite nice three to three and a half hour walk and it was getting better for long stretches. There were still little bits where there had been fly-tipping, but large sections of it were visibly better.

Keep an eye on future volunteering opportunities on our events page

Volunteers at Poulter Park, Carshalton © South East Rivers Trust