Let’s Do It Ourselves (DIO) – Protecting and Enhancing our outdoor playgrounds

Trash Free Trails (TFT) is a community-focussed, non-profit organisation; a positive call to arms for riders, runners, and roamers alike. TFT exists to protect our trails and the wild places they take us, and they are starting with single use pollution (aka; Litter!).

The project’s Do It Ourselves (DIO) approach ensures that trail cleans are not just all about the pick-up event, but that they also contribute to academic research; recording pollution enables progress to be measured and results to be compared on a geographical and annual basis. The project aims to clean more than 2,862km of trails through its DIO initiative, as well as a 9 Stop Tour of some of the UK’s most iconic mountains, forests, and river trails. It will also identify key species habitats threatened by single use pollution and begin ecological monitoring at up to 10 locations. Three DIO conferences will engage, educate, equip, empower, and enable communities to become self-sustaining/evolving stewards of their outdoor playgrounds. The project’s work will culminate in the publication of the State of Our Trails Report and Action Plan Summit on World Environment Day 2023.

The Update

Completed at the end of 2023, this project has succeeded in delivering its objectives, including, but not limited to:

Seven Do It Ourselves (DIO) Conferences involving 280 in person attendees, and over 30,000 views across social platforms. It is estimated that at least 100 trail communities were represented across the world, as well as an estimated 10,000 trail users. The conferences included:
– Trash Count & Trash survey methodologies; which were ratified by Bangor University.
– Annual State of Our Trails Summits.
– Various panel discussions, including a ‘Disruptions to Nature Connection’ panel which involved 10 organisations, representing at least 1,000 trail users.
– 3 ‘How to Create Trash Free Trails’ short films produced which have been viewed over 30,000 times.
DIO Purposeful Adventures:
16 Purposeful Adventures were carried out to inspire and inform TFT’s community to lead their own during “A Summer of Purposeful Adventures” and provide the tools needed to Leave A Positive Trace. This included a Purposeful Adventure Festival in 2022 involving 100 members of the outdoor community over a weekend of rides, runs and roams. Further events and activations included: Love Trails Festival, Citizen Science Expeditions, Pump Track Clean-ups, National Trust clean-up collaborations, Kendal Mountain Festival, Blue Earth Summit, 1% For The Planet sessions in London.
All of TFT’s dedicated on-the-ground work on this project brought some amazing key statistics, including: 
– 2,887+ people were engaged in activities;
– 2,823 km of trails and wild places were cleaned;
– 9,965+ items of single-use pollution (SUP) were removed, recorded, and recycled (where possible);
– 72 State of Our Trails Report data sets were submitted; and
– 7 education sessions for youngsters were carried out.
The State of Our Trails Report Publication & Action Plan Summit:
Over the course of this project, the Second and Third Annual State of Our Trails Summits were held. Following the Third Annual Summit, TFT released 3 years of citizen science data which was collated in its State of Our Trails Report. The full Report can be viewed here. The Report provided insights to the following questions:
– Why do the very people who travel to enjoy wild spaces then drop litter in them?
Disconnection: stemming from a variety of factors, including political relations, sociocultural norms and institutional arrangements. This disconnection can be produced and experienced from an individual level to a societal one. TFT believe SUP is a symptom of a particular sense of disconnection from society and nature.
By mistake: a significant percentage also ends up there by mistake, e.g. a water bottle that was forgotten to be picked up, tiny pieces of plastic tear off that fell from a backpack or even carrier bags that follow the wind.
– How do people feel when they see litter?
People feel sadness, anger, some might not feel anything (when people get used to something, they feel indifference). However 90% of participants feel proud/happy after being part of a trash survey.
– What are the ecological impacts of littering?
Flora impact: SUP takes up spaces on the floor, therefore flora can’t grow on that space. Furthermore, sites with SUP are impacted during the spring and summer, having a detrimental effect on consequential seasons.
Fauna impacts: 32% animal interaction of which 21 % reported death, i.e. one out of 5 animals that interact with SUP will die as a result.
Soil: plastic does not decompose. It does not have a circular life (like glass or aluminium when recycled). SUP composed of plastic will break down and alter the composition of the soil (which later on impacts fauna that feeds/lives there, or flora trying to grow on that soil).
Human visual pollution and economic consequences: nature loses its financial value.
– How can we help people feel more connected to our wonderful parks, hillsides, forests, and coastal trails to encourage changes in behaviour?
TFT’s Nature Connection program: over 90% of respondents to our Trash Survey stated that they felt more connected with nature after a Trail Clean and over 99% would take part again.
TFT continue to work on reducing single-use pollution (SUP), reaching communities to connect with and encourage action against SUP, advocating policy change such as a Deposit Return Scheme, and is also involved with an international coalition working towards a UN Global Plastics Treaty.
This project has been made possible by the generous funding of The North Face.