The fruits of ignorance

Yesterday, I was really tired. I’d had a whole morning of working on my laptop and with three hours of online training still to come, I needed some ‘tree time’. So after eating lunch, I nipped over to Peartree Green, the local nature reserve I help to look after as a volunteer. I’m really lucky as it’s only 3 minutes from my house.

I thought I’d head down the track that marks the northern boundary, so I could check if there was any wild garlic coming up on the patch just past the the turnoff to the woodland path. Annoyingly there wasn’t much, partly because someone had flytipped garden waste on the patch where it grows (ironically, right below the sign that threatens fines for flytipping and dog mess).

Before I reached that spot though, I’d noticed a lot of lilac-blue poo bags that had been flung into the brambles (see main picture). These are what the chair of the Friends of Peartree Green calls ‘the fruits of ignorance’. I just felt really sad, not only for the wildlife, but also for me and others who go for a walk to appreciate nature but have it spoiled by this kind of thing. So I decided to post about it on our Facebook page and then go back this morning to clear the bags and add a sign.

To many people, I’m sure a patch of scrubby bramble looks like wasteland and seems a reasonable place to throw rubbish, whether it’s poo bags, garden waste or bottles and cans. This patch of bramble includes quite a lot of dead stems as a result of previous cutting by our wonderful volunteers to retrieve beer cans. I’d like to think that if the person doing this understands it’s a nature reserve – and that they can put the bags in a bin (we have six) – they might stop. Or they might not. The ‘Carlsberg case’ has taught me that.

Over the past three years, we’ve removed thousands of beer cans, mostly Carlsberg, and finally one sunny Saturday morning we came across the drinkers during one of our litter picks. I chatted to them to explain it was a nature reserve, and asked them to take their cans home or to a bin. Oh yes, said one, I understand as I work at a country park. Later we walked past their bench, and there were the empty cans on the ground. And we continue to find fresh ones in huge quantities to this day. So why doesn’t a polite request work?

In 2020, during my time as a Wilder Community Leader with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust , I took an inspiring training course in Human Behaviour Change for Wildlife Conservation. This taught me that, in order to try to change behaviour, you need to understand what drives it. This graphic from that course, which was written by Becky Fisher (Deputy Director of Engagement) for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, offers starting points, but without knowing who’s flinging those poo bags, we can only guess at the reason behind it. My sign attempts to cover two: one I suppose relates to values, as I hope that pointing out that the area is part of a nature reserve, the flinger might see those brambles as more important. The second relates to opportunity – there are bins, and you can put bagged poo in them. But this behaviour might be driven by time (the nearest bin is out of my way and I’m in a hurry) or habit (this is the way I walk and here is where my dog poos and I don’t want to change), or something else. I’m guessing. It’s all I can do for now.

Through the Friends of Peartree Gren’s Facebook page , though, there is opportunity for dialogue. We can exchange views and ideas about why people do this. Of course, the people using the page already know, and presumably care, that Peartree Green is a nature reserve. Still, some may not know why it’s important to bag and bin dog poo. As I was putting my bag of rubbish near a bin this morning, ready to ask the city council to collect it, a man put a bag of poo in the bin. I thanked him, and told him what I’d just been doing and why. Curiously, he asked what colour the bags were, and I told him, ‘Funnily enough, the same colour as yours’. He then wondered how long it might take for dog poo to break down, so I explained why we’d prefer it to be bagged and binned. Southampton City Council’s ecologists have told me that poo left on the ground alters the composition of the soil, in turn altering the flowers and plants that grow there. This was clearly new to this man. Hopefully, he’ll tell more people, spreading knowledge and reducing ignorance.

And one day, perhaps the only fruits we’ll see on Peartree Green will be apples and pears, haws and hips, and lots of juicy blackberries.

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