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River Clean Ups

British Canoeing’s Charter, which will launch later this year, will establish a clear vision for fair, shared sustainable access to water and outlines our commitment to protecting the environment. 

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We are pledging to improve the health of our rivers and to work to protect, preserve and enhance the natural environment.

British Canoeing will lead the way on paddler clean ups, aiming to remove a significant amount of plastic and litter from our rivers each year.

Discarded plastic bottles, food wrappers and drinks cans are not only an eyesore but damaging to our wildlife. Sadly, in addition to that, there are significant amounts of litter at the bottom of our waterways which we don’t see. Rivers act as a major pathway for land based litter to be transported to the sea - from source to sea.

This has a detrimental effect on wildlife, habitats and our enjoyment of the natural environment. 

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How can you get involved?

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. They can also be great fun especially for groups.

As we launch our Access and Environment Charter we will be celebrating World Rivers Day on 23 September 2018. This is a great day to celebrate our treasured waterways by cleaning them up. 

Organising your own river clean up is reasonably straightforward, to help you, here’s our river clean up checklist. Remember to let us know how many bags you remove so we can celebrate the good work! Please do invite your local MP!

And if you would prefer to clean up alone, then please do let us know how many bags you remove, it all counts! 

If you need any further advice please email us on:

Impact of plastics in our rivers

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 David Morritt Plastic in the Thames - A river runs through it)

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.

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Impact of plastics in our oceans

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. 

Impact of micro-plastics in our ocean

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.

Did you know?

  • 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.


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