Outdoor swimming has grown in popularity over the last 10 years and this outwardly appears to be a good thing, but I increasingly feel it is a self defeating exercise. This suspicion has been amplified by recent events at Spitchwick Common on Dartmoor.
In the blue corner, all those who might not otherwise have seen a jellyfish or a kingfisher.
In the red corner, those who arrive with their instant bar-b-cue, cans, bottles and disposable lifestyle and think the beautiful place they just visited will be enhanced if they smash glass into the water, cut branches off the trees, burn the grass and undergrowth and leave their litter when they go home.
Thoughtless people insensitive to the environment and the wildlife and people they share it with are nothing new, indeed ‘smash, grab and trash’ seems to be an appropriate motto for the human race. What the finish line of this race will look like remains to be seen, but I have an insight.
Yesterday I clambered down the river bank on the way to my swim, picked up the box neatly packed with the plastic and cardboard remains of someone’s day out and lifted it back tot he roadside from where I collected it on my return. How is it, I constantly wonder, that people take all the packets to the picnic, eat and drink the contents and then find themselves without the strength to carry the empties back to the car? Or worse still, do carry it back to the car but simply then leave it in a bush or behind a rock in the car park.
I read recently that the scientific name Homo stupidus was once seriously proposed for Neanderthal people. I think I have identified a far more deserving people for the name.
Countless people have enjoyed a day out at Spitchwick, the main draw being that it is a great place to swim in the river, and yes there has always been some litter and a few fires, but the land is privately owned. The litter and vandalism of the environment has however become unsustainable. Car parks have been closed to choke the flow of visitors. Double yellow lines have been painted on the roads for miles in every direction and a ruthless ticketing policy enforced. And now the last car park has been closed, the next nearest shrunk in size and CCTV installed. It no longer looks like a national park but more like a high street.
It seems unlikely to be effective.
I have heard it said that people park on the yellow lines and agree in advance to share the parking fine. The litter won’t stop but now the roads are impassable too.
I have in the past contacted the park authority and asked why they do not empty the bins at the nearby New Bridge car park which spill over in a stinking mound all through the summer. They assure me that the cost is too much for them to provide bins and that not providing bins makes people take their rubbish home again. Looking at the abundant and highly visual evidence to the contrary I have to disagree. The bins may not be theirs but they don’t know who they do belong to, they tell me. But they are turning your car park into a rubbish tip, why not phone the contractors number on the side of the bin and ask who does pay the rental and cost of eventual emptying? They don’t know why they don’t do this.
Ultimately the land owner may resort to a big fence, it is his land, he should not have to be constantly clearing the area and there is no more an open invitation to go and swim there than there is to all and sundry if you put a paddling pool in your back garden.
A fence in turn will simply displace the hordes to the next place and so on and so on.
As with the situation at Stonehenge I can see a time in the not too distant future when the closest you will be able to get to the river over there behind the barbed wire and attack dogs will be to have an interactive virtual wild swim where at the end someone tips a bucket of water over you which contains some crisp packets, a plastic bottle, soggy cardboard, a knotted dog poo bag and if you are going for the deluxe experience some broken glass and one of those razor sharp grilles from a disposable bar-b-cue.
Rather than being a part of and contributing further to this self defeating moment. I cannot pick up any more litter than I already do so maybe it is time to hand back my goggles and swimwear and throw in the towel.