BY TOBY PORTER
A pile of rubbish is as good as a juicy takeaway to a fox. But a group of human scavengers are chasing around South London’s parks grabbing bags of rubbish – and it’s not for the nutritional value.
They scooped up more than 100 bags of litter in Battersea Park last weekend, with a jog of four miles and two miles (for the trainee collectors) down the river and a one-mile walk in the park.
They also welcomed 49 new recruits, in a clean-up drive which they literally hope will sweep across South London. And to make matters even more implausible, the movement was started by a dedicated Millwall fan – a group whose reputation, shall we say, does not usually feature hugging trees.
The public-spirited group call themselves Plog-olution – a volunteer gang who run regular plogs, ie runs or walks while picking up rubbish.
The name is a hybrid of the Swedish word plocka, which means picking up, and jogging. Buddies Dermot Kavanagh and Michelle Parkes, a marketing expert, were mulling over the state of our rubbish-strewn streets one day in July when they had a Eureka moment.
Personal trainer Dermot had stumbled across plogging and the duo decided to pull a group of people together to see what could be done. Dermot, an avid Millwall fan, is passionate about the environment and is a South London boy born and bred.
He didn’t much enjoy working in retail, so joined the Royal Yeomanry – a light Calvary Reserve Regiment, and became a lorry driver for Kensington and Chelsea refuse service.
Seeing all the rubbish going to landfill had a massive effect on him and his passion for conservation. Earlier this year he went to South Africa to help protect rhinos with the charity Veterans for Wildlife, by manning a radar system – and on his return quit his job to focus on his passion for fitness.
Their first plog in July attracted 16 people, starting at Putney Bridge, running towards Hammersmith and back collecting more than 20 bags of rubbish. Dermot said: “Big ideas and passion lead to change, so we knew that it wasn’t enough to stop at just one plog – we wanted to make this much bigger and involve local communities.”
Another plog in Kingston in August had 20 people and collected more than 40 bags of rubbish. They set their sights higher and planned a large scale plog at Battersea Park, which took place last Sunday.
Sponsored by SAP Ariba, they had three different routes:
- A four-mile run took ploggers out of the park and down the river towards Vauxhall Bridge and back into the park over Chelsea Bridge.
- A two-mile run went the other way and was able to get down onto the shoreline.
- Then a shorter one-mile route walked around the park.
Michelle said: “We were amazed by the turnout on the day and humbled by everyone’s reactions to the movement.
“To know that those 100 bags of rubbish won’t find their way into our rivers and oceans is very satisfying.
We found the usual plastic bottles, glass and crisp packets, but also lots of sanitary products and even a dildo.”
In a couple of weeks, a small team will be kayaking and picking up rubbish down the River Wandle in Wandsworth.
A smaller plog will be held on Putney and Wimbledon Common on Monday, October 1 at 6pm.
Michelle said: “Before the year is out, we hope to hold a larger central London plog with five different distances.
This will involve different starting points around central London, all coming together at the end. “Next year’s plans are already afoot for an ‘Ultra Plog’ which will involve plogging the length of the Thames from the source to its end point, 184 miles in total over six days.
“Eventually we would love to see this become a national movement, a way to engage communities and help to make where they live a better place.
“We are also intending to spread the word across schools and already have presentations booked in for assemblies where we hope to educate about reducing plastic use and also ensure children keep their local areas clean.”
Dermot said: “We’ve seen the difference that plogging can make to a community. It brings together people from all different backgrounds, united against a common cause.
The aim of Plog-olution is to create healthy and happy communities so that we can pass down a cleaner environment to the next generation.”
Where there’s muck, there’s usually brass, as the old adage says.
But in this case the only ones getting brassed off are the foxes.