Cleaning up plastic pollution in river of shame in Co Londonderry

Members of the club during the litter pick at the River Faughan
Members of the club during the litter pick at the River Faughan

GRAEME COUSINS finds out about an angling club’s ambition to put an end to plastic pollution in the River Faughan

An angling club in Co Londonderry has begun an initiative which they hope will reel in others to tackle the problem of litter in the Province’s waterways.

Around 50 bags of rubbish, mostly plastic, were taken from the River Faughan

Around 50 bags of rubbish, mostly plastic, were taken from the River Faughan

To mark the International Year Of The Salmon, Sean McLaughlin who is director of River Faughan Anglers, came up with a plan to mobilise fishermen and their friends to do their bit to address the global problem of plastic pollution in rivers and oceans.

Sean, 46, who is from Londonderry, said: “I’ve been fishing the Faughan for over 30 years. And it’s not just fishing. I’d go out there in the off season and watch the salmon spawning, watch the sea trout spawning.

“This came about when I went to one of my favourite pools and found there must have been ones drinking there. There were plastic and glass bottles lying about.

“I took a bag with me and cleared it up. Then I moved to the next pool and cleared it up too. It grew from there.

The river was in a sorry state

The river was in a sorry state

“I used social media to get the word out and asked for help.

“It gained a bit of legs. I got a few friends to come along, my children came along and helped us out. We removed 20 bags of rubbish and the idea grew from there.

“We had a couple of more days at the river and moved to different stretches and continued with the clean up.”

Then came their biggest litter pick to date on Saturday, March 16: “We went to the lower tidal area of the Faughan and this was our most ambitious clean up yet.

“We removed over 50 bags of rubbish and plastics and various other debris from the river.

“It was primarily plastic bottles, then just general trash – crisp bags that were maybe 20 years old, other than the bags being opened they looked brand new. You had some agricultural waste, black plastic that silage is wrapped in.”

Sean, who works for Loop Tackle Design – worldwide manufacturers of fly fishing gear – said: “2019 is International Year of the Salmon. That’s a worldwide initiative – there’s various research programmes going on looking into the welfare of salmon, how to get the numbers back up to what they were.

“I called our project ‘A Home Fit For A King’ because the salmon is regarded as the king of fish and we registered it with www.yearofthesalmon.org.”

Explaining the significance of the River Faughan, he said: “The Faughan would have salmon, sea trout, brown trout, a raft of wildlife all through it.

“It’s a special area of conservation and an area of special scientific interest which affords it the highest level of environmental protection under European law.

“It’s still a very, very worthwhile river. We’ve relatively healthy runs of fish.”

Describing the problem with rubbish accumulating in the river, Sean said: “Once I started looking and seeing the rubbish, I couldn’t unsee what I’d saw, I couldn’t ignore what I’d saw.

“There’s nothing new about a litter pick. I didn’t invent the litter pick.

“What I wanted to do in the year of the salmon was a project that anglers could understand and give it an umbrella that everyone could get under.

“It’s basically grown from me doing this on the Faughan. I’ve had conversations with another couple of local angling clubs and they want to roll out the programme in their areas.

“One of our guys in Loop Tackle was over from Scotland and he wants to take the initiative back to Scotland and work with angling clubs out there.

“We want to grow this out into Britain and Ireland.”

He continued: “My personal belief is the plastic and rubbish issue has been working on every ecosystem and river environment since time began. Nobody has ever looked to see the real extent that it’s going on here.

“The beauty about going out to the river in winter is you’re seeing the river with all the grasses and bushes in a dead state, you can see everything.

“In the summer everything is in bloom, you won’t see this. That’s why it was important to do this now.

“What I want to do as part of this initiative is to get people out on to the river in the off season.

“A good wee spin-off from this is we had guys out there talking about the incredible sense of achievement gathering up all this stuff, a sense of pride.

“If you’re talking about mental health – everybody who took part were buzzing from doing it.

“We’re getting more and more volunteers coming on board. It’s gaining a nice bit of momentum.

“It’s great that people are out on the river when it’s not fishing season, getting active, getting their children involved, learning about the river, the ecosystem, and how they can play a part.

“Anglers are one of the main users of rivers worldwide, we need to do our bit.

“80% of plastic that reaches the ocean originates from land, we’re trying to stop it reaching there in the first place.

“There’s no magic wand that changes everything but I think if we’re pro-active and keep growing we could have a really good impact on this problem locally.

“This is not just a fad, I see this having real longevity.”

Sean added: “We have all seen Blue Planet and other documentaries of far-off places where this problem exists.

“This is not Blue Planet, this is on our own doorstep.

“People see it on TV and say, ‘that’s terrible’, but it’s happening right here.”