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River Clean Ups

British Canoeing’s Charter establishes a clear vision for fair, shared sustainable access to water and outlines our commitment to protecting the environment. 

Expand Introduction


The effect humans are having on the environment and our rivers is clear to see and it is not something to be proud of. A bag in a tree, plastic bottles collected in the reeds, moorhens swimming amongst beer cans and sanitary wipes woven into a nest.

However there is a wave of passionate paddlers taking mass action to tackle this environmental crisis by literally hauling hundreds of sacks full of junk from our most treasured rivers and waterways before it reaches our oceans.

It is incredibly inspiring to see the efforts of clubs, centres and individuals removing tonnes of junk from our rivers and waterways - some of which has been there for years. As regular users of our waterways paddlers care very much for the waters in which they paddle and see first-hand the scale of the issue so are keen to be part of the solution.

– Chantelle Grundy, British Canoeing Access & Environment Officer​
River Cleanup 1

How Can I Get Involved?

Kingston Kayak Club Cleanup

We’ve made organising your own paddle clean up easier with our Paddle Cleanup Toolkit so grab your friends, gloves, pickers and bags and head off to your local waterway and show it some love. 

Once you have completed your paddle clean up remember to log your results on our online monitoring tool so we can tell government how paddlers play a key role in improving the health of our waterways. This is how we are keeping track of all the paddle cleanups and the data you share ensures we can continue the work of our charter - campaigning for fair, share sustainable access to water.

Take the time to contact your MP too and shout about the paddle cleanup's you have organised or are taking part in - you could even invite them along. A template letter can be found in the useful downloads section below. 

Share details of your event! Tag British Canoeing on social media or send pictures and write ups to [email protected] for a chance to be featured on our channels.

Clean ups - part of our Clear Access Clear Waters Campaign – fair shared sustainable open access!

Useful Downloads

Expand Impact of plastics

Impact of plastics


Over a three month period from September to December 2012, at seven localities in the upper Thames estuary, 8490 submerged plastic items were intercepted in eel fyke nets anchored to the river bed. 

Whilst there were significant differences in the numbers of items at these locations, the majority were some type of plastic.

Dr Dave Morritt, Reader in Aquatic Ecology at Royal Holloway University of London who co-authored the study, said: “This underwater litter must be taken into account when predicting the amount of pollution entering our rivers and seas, not just those items that we can see at the surface and washed up on shore."

It is really important to prevent plastics and other litter reaching the ocean.  Birds and other wildlife can become entangled often leading to death.

As plastic journeys down the river it begins to break down into tiny pieces known as micro-plastics which have devastating impacts on the marine environment.

Small fish confuse the plastic particles with food items such as zoo plankton and fish eggs and ingest them.

In addition, exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA) a chemical used in some plastic production can lead to confusion in freshwater fish, making it difficult for them to pursue their own species to mate resulting in inter-species breeding. 

This is detrimental as they have evolved in ways that ensure their survival, with certain traits that help them adapt to climate, eat and digest what's on their local menu, and avoid local predators. The wrong genetic mix could breed out these traits.


Ocean currents have allowed a large swath of the north Pacific to collect a spinning mass of rubbish that is largely made up of plastics –the great pacific garbage patch is about 1.6 million square kilometres in size. The majority of the mass is made up of larger objects while only 8% of the mass is microplastics.

This, along with other plastic in the ocean can cause entanglement of birds and other marine life including seals. Common examples include whales suffering from blocked digestive systems and sea turtles mistake floating bags for jellyfish. 

Micro-plastics in our oceans

Micro-plastics are degraded grain sized plastic which enters the food chain when eaten by zooplankton mistaking it for algae. Fish then feed on the zooplankton which in turn are prey for seagulls and higher predators including humans, therefore moving the plastic up the food chain.

Crabs injest micro-plastic particles through their gills having implications not only for the crabs health but also its predators – humans.

There is concern of the effect on marine life and humans because the tiny micro-plastics also act like little sponges absorbing persistent organic pollutants (POP’s), which remain in tact for long periods of time and have been associated with detrimental effects on health.

A few facts about plastic

Here are a few facts about plastics and how you can help reduce use of plastics.

  • Plastic micro fibres from synthetic clothes and.textiles are even turning up in tap water around the world.
  • ‘Global estimate of between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste currently entering the ocean every year from rivers, with over 74% of emissions occurring between May and October’ (Nature Communications 8 River Plastic emissions to the world’s oceans).
  • ‘More than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tonnes are afloat at sea (PLOS one Estimate of plastic pollution in Worlds Ocean).'

The long term solution is to keep plastic out of our rivers and oceans in the first place and we can all take action to reduce this together:

  • Reduce: Buy a flask! Or a re-usable coffee cup to avoid using that coffee cup with the plastic lid in the first place.
  • Reuse: Need some new kit then why not opt for a pre-used paddle!
  • Recycle: When buying a new canoe consider a recycled canoe. Check out the work that Palm are doing with Fathom Free. 
  • Responsible: Dispose of all litter responsibly, taking it home if necessary.
Expand Waterways Clean Up Online Tracker

Waterways Clean Up Online Tracker

A river clean up is a great way for paddlers to get involved in your community and help clean your local river, preventing unwanted litter from transporting itself from the river into our seas.

Organising your own river clean up is reasonably straightforward. To help you, here’s our river clean up checklist

Below is our clean up tracker. Take a look at what others are doing. The map shows you river clean-ups carried out so far. 

Send us your clean up data

You can join other paddlers on the map by organising your own event and sending us the details.

Your river clean up will help us highlight how having uncontested access on and along inland waterways for paddlers will bring additional benefits.

So, please tell us how much litter you have removed. Simply complete the form below and we'll add you to the map