Preventing Plastic Pollution in the Rother

The Project

Strandliners was pleased to take part in a Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP) project in the Rother catchment, supported by The Rivers Trust, Sea-Changers, Rother District Council and a local donor. This project was the first of its kind, recording environmental plastic pollution across river catchments in England and Northern France.

Residents fed up with plastic pollution near their local waterways were invited to participate in the following ways: 
Talks – discussing the environmental plastic pollution and the importance of recording.
Litter picks – joining a litter pick to clear an area for the benefit of wildlife and conservation.
Surveys – becoming a forensic citizen scientist, adding discoveries to a catchment-wide database. 


60% to 80% of coastal plastic pollution has inland sources and rivers are a major pathway. If all plastic waste in the environment is picked, bagged and binned, little proactive mitigation is possible, whereas if the plastic pollution is identified and recorded, reduction strategies can be planned at local and national scales. 

What did we do?

Strandliners delivered presentations around the Rother catchment, giving the context for recording environmental litter. We contacted existing groups and interested residents to connect with and also to engage local residents to join in with our own events. We also attended events hosted by other organisations around the catchment to promote this project. Brand audits and advanced litter counts were generally undertaken, in order to provide the maximum data, with some smaller surveys for groups who were not yet confident with the larger surveys.

The weather and the time of year gave a slow start to the project: snow and frozen ground, followed by flooding across much of the catchment, the World Cup and Christmas, as well as short daylight hours meant it was either difficult to access areas or volunteers were reluctant to come out. The project has therefore project been end-heavy, and more surveys are planned which Strandliners are happy to support.

The River Rother

The River Rother rises near Rotherfield in East Sussex and flows for 56 km through East Sussex and Kent to its mouth at Rye Bay. It is joined by the Rivers Brede and Tillingham at Rye, before it discharges to the sea. For the final 23 km the river bed is below the high tide level, and the Scots Float sluice is used to control water levels. The sluice prevents salt water entering the upper river system at high tides, and retains water during the summer months to ensure the health of the surrounding marsh habitat. Below the sluice, the river is tidal for 6 km. It is navigable from Rye Harbour to Bodiam. Strandliners has surveyed coastal dunes east side of river mouth; a Local Nature Reserve west of river mouth (SSSI, SPA, SAC and RAMSAR site) including shingle and saltmarsh areas; an area above Scots Float sluice; a roadside verge adjacent to the River Brede; an area adjacent to a wastewater treatment plant; a National Trust site at the upper reaches of the navigable part of the river; and an area around the source of River Rother. The Rother catchment is a small, mainly rural area. 

What did we do?

Along selected sites along the River Rother, we carried out:
11 brand audits
11 advanced litter counts
1 intermediate litter count

We removed 163.56 kg  waste from the environment
We identified and recorded 6,064 individual items
We cleaned 9,650 m of river bank

Brand audits provide the most data, as they look at the most polluting brands, the categories of the litter collected and the plastic polymers they are made from. Andy Dinsdale says, “The more we record what the pollution is, the better chance we have of reducing it at source. Effectively we are creating a data-rich picture of environmental plastic pollution around us. Amazingly, the work is fun and addictive, as well as adding a climate change perspective to everyone’s litter picking.”

What did we deliver?

7 presentations at ‘hub’ locations and 6 other locations around the catchment
23 surveys at 11 sites
1 advanced training event
A successful end-of project event, Love Our Rother, to which we invited volunteers, guest speakers/presenters and local, regional and national organisations.
A presentation at a CaBA webinar.
A presentation at the PPP conference in London.

Who did we reach?

End of project public event Love Our Rother (124); stands and/or presentations at Ocean Symposium Sussex organised by UNA Climate & Oceans (100), Battle Town council event (80), Local Nature Reserves & Country Parks (56), Rotherfield Primary school (32), Rother Voluntary Action AGM (30), local community groups (52).
Total audience = 475

Who did we work with?

The Rivers Trust, Rye Harbour Nature Reserve (Sussex Wildlife Trust), SMOL, United Nations Association Climate & Oceans, Environment Agency, Lewes Climate Hub, Rother District Council, Battle Town Council, Rother Voluntary Action, Sussex Dolphin Project, Sussex Underwater, Marine Conservation Society, Rother Environmental Group, Rye Community Garden, Sussex Greenways, WI groups, Rotherfield Primary School.


Strandliners has purchased equipment so that five groups at different hubs around the catchment (including Brede, Battle, NE of Rye) can have a basic safety/recording kit. The equipment will enable recording rather than just picking and will be a legacy of the project. Please contact Strandliners if you would be interested in taking this further.

Comments from press and from volunteers

Once people have come along our presentations, they realise the importance of recording, rather than ‘pick, bag, bin’. 

Press articles relating to the project can be found below:
Hastings Online Times, Preventing Plastic Pollution!
Hastings Online Times, Preventing Plastic Pollution: big event!
Hastings Online Times, Beyond the litter pick – creating action from recording
Rye News, Love Our Rother
Rye News, A room full of enthusiasm

Asked what the most important part of our presentations and surveys were, comments included:
“Knowing the results will be submitted.”
“Analysis of where the rubbish comes from in order to find a solution that works.”
“Understanding the importance of high-quality data for influencing change.”
“Coming together as a group with a common goal to make a difference.”
“Understanding the rationale, including the difference to just litter picking.”
“Very informative, interesting and inspiring.”
“It was great, I learnt so much.”“You have renewed my motivation.”

The results

Here is a short summary of the data from the surveys:

We used the brand audit surveys to create pie charts, what we termed the ‘litter DNA’ of a site so that we could compare areas and see how the proportions change as we move upstream. We found that seeing the data presented in a more visual way helped engage more people to take part in the surveys.

Volunteers at Camber Sands
The beach (just the other side of the river mouth) looks clean, but many small items can be found
Surveying the saltmarsh (with permission) at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
Just south of Monk Bretton bridge at Rye
North of the tennis club at Rye
We must be mindful of the wildlife that has made the plastic their home
The Petty Knelle stream at Beckley
Extensive flooding at the beginning of the year hampered our efforts
The River Rother at Iden
Plastic and other litter left on the bank when the river level dropped at Bodiam
Y5 children from Rotherfield Primary surveyed near the source of the River Rother

Comparing the sites

The data can also be seen as a bar chart below, to make comparing the sites easier.

You can download the report as a pdf document here.

Strandliners also worked on a project with the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust. Click here to see our Ouse & Adur page and see our results.