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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


British Canoeing joined forces with one of the leading marine environmental campaigners ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ on their national Autumn Beach and River Clean Campaign 2018.

It was a huge success, the biggest campaign ever delivered by Surfers Against Sewage and smashing all targets with 487 Autumn Beach and river cleans; 75 river cleans, an incredible 21,238 volunteers; And 35,963 kg of plastic pollution removed. Absolutely amazing effort by all and a huge thank you for getting involved. Find out how clubs got on.

Also benefitting were 60 clubs and centres who received their own river clean kit provided by a Canoe Foundation Grant.

Paddlers are passionate about the environment and the Autumn Beach and River Clean Campaign has enabled paddlers to get involved in a hugely successful national campaign. Following the launch of British Canoeing’s Access and Environment Charter, Clear Access Clear Waters, British Canoeing will continue to demonstrate to government the important role paddlers play in protecting our waterways from plastic pollution.

– Chantelle Grundy Access and Environment Officer

How can I get involved?

Plans are underway for a spring clean up, more information will follow shortly.

However organising your own river clean up is reasonably straightforward and if your keen to get involved, here’s our river clean up checklist.     

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