Plastic Free Watchet Beach Clean Mark Ward 2
Plastic Free Watchet Beach Clean. PHOTO: Mark Ward

West Somerset tackling the plastic pollution problem head-on

WATCHET and Minehead have become the 130th and 131st areas in the UK to gain Plastic Free Community status, with Porlock Vale and Exmoor hot on their heels.

Over 700 communities across the UK are working to tackle single-use plastic as part of the Plastic Free Community campaign by marine conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS).

This work in West Somerset and Exmoor is aimed at giving local people and visitors a cleaner, more enjoyable experience as they visit our towns, villages, beaches and moors.

The Plastic Free Minehead campaign started nearly three years ago in response to a growing concern about plastic waste around the town and an awareness of how much single-use plastic the town generated.

Inspired by their actions, a parallel campaign was set up in Watchet in 2019. Exmoor National Park Authority has encouraged local residents to set up a Plastic Free Exmoor campaign and parishes in Porlock Vale have also recently joined the scheme, with Dunkery Beacon Country Hotel being the first business to take steps to reduce single-use plastic in the Vale. Both communities aim to achieve Plastic Free Community status within the coming months.

To achieve plastic free status, Minehead and Watchet communities have worked together with key organisations such as the local councils, local schools such as Minehead Middle School and Knight’s Templar School in Watchet, community groups and local businesses to eliminate avoidable single-use plastic, as well as educate young people, hold regular beach cleans and other events, and help communities to protect our local environment.

Community allies who have signed up include local woman’s institutes, sports groups, and business groups such as Minehead BID and Watchet Chamber of Commerce (WACET). The campaigns have also been supported by organisations such Somerset Waste Partnership and the Litter Free Coast and Sea Somerset project.

Local businesses, in particular, have really stepped up, including fish and chip shop Dana’s in Minehead; Stuart Lowen’s Quality Butchers and Farm Shop; Salad Days and Holi Moli Beach Huts in Dunster; and the Watchet Marina, Corner Café and the New Horizons Gift Shop in Watchet; who have all made real efforts to switch away from single-use plastic items like plastic cutlery, straws, toiletries, containers and plastic bags to less environmentally damaging alternatives.

Several awareness raising events and actions have been held, such as a community beach clean in Watchet last January which over 100 local residents attended, and a ‘Mass Unwrap’ at Minehead Tesco back in early March last year – run in conjunction with the store’s management team.

Mark Ward from Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Somerset’s Brilliant Coast project, (funded by HPC Community Impact Mitigation fund and the National Trust), helped to coordinate the effort as a part of his work to empower local coastal parishes to engage with their coastlines and the amazing habitats and wildlife found there.

He said “The backing we have had from a whole range of stakeholders in local communities has been immensely encouraging and enthusiastic. Reducing single-use plastic will help to protect this beautiful area and its wildlife, as well as encourage more people to visit and experience it for themselves.”

Plastic Free Watchet Community Leader, Sam Westmacott said: “This town has really rallied together, and we achieved Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free status quickly thanks to the support of local community groups and businesses. You will now struggle to find a plastic cup, spoon or fork in any of our cafes.”

Daniel Fitzgerald, Plastic Free Minehead Community Leader, added “For both towns this is only the beginning of the journey. We’re so inspired by what has been achieved so far, and with Porlock Vale and Exmoor soon to achieve plastic-free status too, it’s fantastic for the whole area and for local tourism.”

Rachel Yates, SAS Plastic Free Communities Project Manager, said: “It’s great to see the work that these communities in West Somerset and Exmoor have done to reduce the availability of avoidable plastics, raise awareness and encourage people to refill and reuse.”

“Every step they take is a step towards tackling the problem at source, challenging our throwaway culture and encouraging the habit and system changes we need to see.”

You can find out more about Plastic Free Communities in West Somerset and get involved by visiting their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/plasticfreecommunitieswestsomerset or their Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/plasticfreeminehead/

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