One man and his kayak help clear tonnes of rubbish from NI river

Single-handedly, with just a kayak and a dinghy, one man has lifted thousands of bottles and tonnes of litter from the River Bann.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 11:13 am

It is just eight months since Portadown man Jon Medlow was made redundant but he has used his time off, before he returns to a new job, to help clean up the river.

He goes out on his kayak gathering rubbish at least twice a week.

“My first time kayaking on the Bann River was in August 2019 with my brother-in-law, when we kayaked from Gilford out to Charlestown.

Jon Medlow in his kayak with just some of the rubbish he has collected from the River Bann

“This was the first time that I noticed a litter problem. I then purchased a kayak and four person dinghy which arrived in the middle of September.

“My first time out on water, collecting litter, involved paddling back and forth from Portadown Boat Club multiple times as I was using this as a litter drop-off point.

“This proved too time consuming, wasn’t efficient and I was only able to cover a short stretch of the river. I then began to tow the four person dinghy.

“This enabled me to stay on the water for a 6-7 hour period, collect more litter and eventually increase the stretch of river covered from Portadown Golf Club out to the M1 motorway bridge.

Jon Medlow in his kayak with just some of the rubbish he has collected from the River Bann

“Depending on the amount of litter present and strength of the flow this could be covered over 2-4 days.

“It was at this stage I realised the problem was bigger than I had originally anticipated, when the dinghy, on it’s first outing, was overflowing.

“This led me to carrying out the cleanups at least twice a week when possible.

“I had been purchasing my own bin bags and disposing of the litter myself at the Fairgreen Amenity site originally but then realised that this needed to change.”

In one day, just before Christmas, Jon collected 417 plastic bottles, 174 glass bottles, 83 cans, seven tennis balls, six footballs, five plastic balls, three bags of rubbish (polystyrene trays, deodorant, bags, crisp packets, etc), two pieces of footwear, one angrybird, one toy tractor and one tin of paint.

He revealed that there were a lot of empty Lambrini bottles hidden in the undergrowth. He said: “One of these days I’m hopefully going to catch the elusive Lambrini drinker.”

Jon has also encountered some very gruesome finds, such as the carcasses of a dead cow and a dead sheep.

He said: “Having previously tried reporting a dead sheep in the river and being passed from one Government agency to another, I began looking at the legislation with regards to litter removal from rivers and found that it is totally inadequate and not fit for purpose.

“I found the Live Here Love Here website with contact details for the ABCB Council Community Engagement Officer Pamela Hanna.

“Having contacted Pamela, I signed up to the council’s Adopt A Street scheme (think this was the first river on the scheme) and was provided with bin bags, gloves and a litter picker.

“Parks & Leisure Services then began to pick up the litter I collected so long as they were given advanced notice.

“I can’t fault the council folks as they have been a great help to me.

“My next progression was to purchase a number of one ton skip bags and instead of just putting the litter into the dinghy and sorting after, the litter was separated into glass and cans, plastic bottles and general rubbish while being placed in the dinghy.

“I also decided to start recording everything that was being removed from the river. In conjunction with the Facebook page I wanted to draw attention to how big the problem was, hopefully make people think twice about throwing their litter in the river, and inspire others to help, all while trying to remain anonymous, although that hasn’t quite worked out.”

“I have had a number of requests to help but potential volunteers don’t have the means to get out on the water,” added Jon.

“Having searched for possible solutions I found a Danish non-profit called Green Kayak who provide tandem sit-on-top kayaks for free on the basis that they are used for collecting litter and people post their photos on social media using #greenkayak.

“They hope to build a network of these throughout Europe and having spoken to them, I want to try and get them to NI.

“My hopes are to try and establish a voluntary group that will provide kayaks for free so people can get out on the river litterpicking, either through funding from other non-profits or from my own funds.

“It would also be great if the current devolved administration would look at our ‘not fit for purpose’ environmental legislation and take on board the ‘Common Purpose’ principles and actions as set out by NICVA.

“Other than that, it would be great if people stopped using our rivers as landfill sites.”

If you would like to find out more about Jon’s efforts to clean up the river, check out his Facebook page ‘RiverBannCleanupPortadown’ for further information.

A spokesperson for Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon said litter in the borough is a key priority and officers work regularly with local residents.

“When Jon Medlow contacted the council about wanting to help clear the rubbish from the River Bann, council was more than happy to assist in any way they could. Jon was informed about the Adopt-a-Street scheme where we offer support and equipment to residents, businesses, schools or groups who wish to go out and spend some time picking up any litter they may see in their area, in addition to the work carried out by the council’s street sweepers. We have supplied Jon with gloves, bags and a litter picker to help him on his clean up each week at the river.

“In addition, when Jon has collected the bags of rubbish, staff from the Parks department pick up the bags and dispose of them at the Fairgreen Amenity Site.

“Council also partners with ‘Live Here Love Here’ and therefore are able to offer residents, businesses, schools and groups the opportunity to apply for funding for green projects to improve a specific area of the borough through their small grants scheme.

"The grants will open on 6th April 2020 and run until the 16th May. As Jon wished to look at getting more people involved in his project, council has encouraged him to apply for the funding in the spring to assist with this."

“People like Jon are very special and we are so appreciative of all of the work he does to help us keep the River Bann clean,” commented the Lord Mayor, Councillor Mealla Campbell.

“We have so many people on board with us, helping to keep our borough tidy and we are more than happy to assist them in any way that we can - including through the Adopt-a-Street scheme, giving out bags, gloves and litter pickers as well as the opportunity to apply for the Live Here Love Here grants.”

If anyone wishes to get involved in the Council’s Adopt-a-Street scheme they can contact the Environmental Health department for more information on 0300 0300 900.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said: ”The disposal of animal carcasses is controlled by the Animal By-Products (Enforcement) Regulations(NI) 2015 which support the implementation of EU Regulation 1069/2009. Whilst DAERA is responsible for implementing and enforcing this legislation, the responsibility for the disposal of animal carcasses rests with the owner or person responsible for the carcasses.

"In the case of carcasses found in or on the banks of rivers, disposal is the responsibility of the adjoining landowner.

"In the case of carcasses found in rivers which are causing an obstruction to the flow of water, it is the responsibility of Rivers Agency to dispose of them.”