There has been a lot of talk over the last week or so about Isle of Wight council’s budget cuts and overflowing litter bins during the bank holiday.
However, down in Ventnor, thanks to the sterling efforts of local people, the seafront was spared the ugly mass of rubbish from a day at the beach scattered across the esplanade for wildlife to pick through overnight or ending up in the sea.
Womble Wendy and Great Uncle Womble Don
Realising a gap in the service provided by Isle of Wight Council – they only pay for the beaches to be litter picked twice a week – Wendy Marshall – known to everyone locally as Womble Wendy – is paid by Ventnor Town Council to litter pick the beach every morning from the beginning of April until the end of September.
Every day, Wendy is joined by Don Remnant – known as Great Uncle Womble Don – who also gets up at the crack of dawn to beach clean and litter pick, but as a volunteer and for the love of the town.
The logic of evening collections
Whilst rubbish bins were overflowing at all other coastal towns at the end of the very hot Easter bank holiday weekend (the IWC only pay for morning collections outside of the six week summer holiday), Wendy and Don were down at Ventnor seafront collecting an enormous amount of rubbish left by beach goers.
Their thinking was that if the bins were emptied at 6pm, it would leave space for them to be filled again by the overnight visitors, such as fish and chip wrappers, empty cans and bottles from those on the beach late at night. This would be removed in the morning run, leaving the bins clear for the coming day’s rubbish.
78 extra bags of rubbish collected
Wendy and Don were not paid to do this, but they love their town and knew that if the rubbish wasn’t removed at the end of the day, it would be scattered across the entire seafront by the morning and with much of it possibly ending up in the sea.
The amount of rubbish collected (and taken away by Ace Waste free of charge!), just on the evening run, is shocking.
- Friday evening – 24 bags of rubbish
- Saturday evening – 20 bags of rubbish
- Sunday evening – 19 bags of rubbish
- Monday evening – 15 bags of rubbish
This does not include the amount of rubbish collected from the morning beach cleans and Wendy says Ventnor was the only town on the Island to have its Esplanade bins emptied in the evening last weekend.
As the bags of rubbish could not be left on the seafront they were taken home and stored in Wendy and Don’s garden until the next day.
Usual and unusual finds
We asked Wendy what were some of the funniest things she’s found in her time beach cleaning – some of these were from when she was part of a team in the past that cleaned Shanklin beach.
The list included:
- A wedding dress in the bin (Shanklin)
- Animals – cats, dogs, birds, some live, some sadly dead
- Dead porpoises – these have to be collected and sent for autopsies
- Drugs – three cannabis plants found in Shanklin
- Lots of jewellery – which is handed to the police
- lots of unopened alcohol and food, such as bottles of lager and packets of sausages and burgers
- Cameras – again these are handed to the police
- Mobile phones – ditto above
- Clothing – Wendy takes these home and washes them before given to charity shops
- Shoes and flip flops
- Towels – these are taken home, washed and given to the vets
When they find a blown up rubber glove on the beach, Wendy says you have to “look very carefully, as it may contain a hand, but luckily so far they have been filled with sand and shingle”. It’s also not unusual to find Urns – she says mostly they are without the lids, but they do get the occasional one with a lid and always check inside to make sure the ashes were emptied.
Most valuable find
When once giving a talk to a local community group, Wendy says she was asked what was the most valuable thing she’s found on a beach was during a litter pick. Her answer surprised the person asking, who thought it might be an expensive camera or jewellery.
Wendy explained that whilst litter picking, she spotted a group of students on a school trip. She estimated there were around 70 kids, all with packed lunches prepared by the hotel they were staying at.
After they left she went to empty the bins, and found a bag that was incredible heavy, far too heavy for her to carry, so she looked inside. There were sandwich wrappers, empty crisp packets, around 40 uneaten apples, but more surprisingly, approximately 60 small unopened bottles of drinking water.
Devastated to pour away the water
The only way Wendy would be able to remove the rubbish was to pour away the water first.
She told us that as she was pouring away the water from each of the 60+ bottles, she couldn’t help but think of the families in African countries who have to walk miles in searing heat to collect their water. She was deeply saddened by attitude of the young people on the school trip, who felt it was acceptable to just discard this water without a second thought.
Rather than taking it back to the hotel to be used another day or even just pouring on the flowerbeds, they dumped the unopened bottles in the beach bins.
Wendy really is seen as a litter picking hero in the town, but always one to play it down, when explaining about the royal recognition for litter picking services in May 2017, Wendy said,
“We were invited to have a cup of Rosie Lee n’ some Sarnies with our friends Liz n’ Phil at their pad called Buck House in London for Services to the Community with our Wombling.”
Beyond the call of duty
Although Wendy is paid to pick litter and empty bins from the beach during April to September, she goes well beyond what’s expected of her all year round. And Don too. They really are an amazing couple and the town is lucky to have them.
There are others who also do their bit, such as Lesley Genge from Lesley’s Nutshell in Pier Street. You’ll often find Lesley down on the beach collecting plastic from the tide line or rocks and she just can’t walk past a piece of litter without picking it up.
All praise to Wendy and Don, and Lesley and all the other people who pick up other people’s rubbish or even just take theirs home with them rather than expecting someone else to clean up their mess.