Andy Dinsdale has lived in Fairlight all his life. He's been a juggler, worked for an engineering firm and has covered maternity leave for Sussex Wildlife Trust Learning and Engagement Officers twice. He's been leading riverbank and beach cleans since 2004, and is the Executive Director of Strandliners, a Community Interest Company that seeks to make our rivers and seas cleaner. We speak to him at Pett Level, on a beautifully sunny February day, as the Fulmar fly overhead.
Fulmar (c) Bob Eade
Tell us a bit about yourself
I've been visiting Rye Harbour since the 1960s, when my parents brought me here. My first major job was for an engineering firm at Rye Harbour and I'd cycle to it through the reserve in the 1980s. I became fascinated by the wildlife after noticing two Cuckoos who followed me as I cycled.
I then travelled the world and became more aware of the fragility of habitats and the negative impact of human intervention on nature. In the 1990s, I came back and started performing and teaching circus skills. I've realised that using them is a great way to connect with an audience. Also, juggling is great for mental health, being a kind of meditative activity.
I love punk and would describe myself as having a punk sensibility - I think anyone can get up and do something,
Andy is holding two kinds of octopus pod
I volunteered with Sussex Wildlife Trust at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve then did environmental, education work with the RSPCA, aimed at increasing public awareness of the marine environment. I realised that not many children access the beach. Their knowledge of marine life is limited to what they see on TV.
I started organising marine debris surveys in 2004, for the RSPCA and Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, as part of my work with them. Then I did them voluntarily from 2008. I've organised more than 200.
I call them marine debris surveys rather than litter surveys because most of what we're seeing has come from the ocean, rather than visitors leaving litter (although that is a problem too). 80% of what we find started off on land and ended up in the ocean via drains and rivers.
Tell us about Strandliners
Strandliners is about working with communities to get cleaner rivers and seas.
To illustrate what we're about - a typical beach clean involves 'pick, bag and bin'. That's great for the immediate benefit of wildlife and human visitors.
What we want to do, however, is stop the same or similar rubbish getting back on the beach. Our process, therefore, is 'pick, identify, record, bag, bin/recycle'.
Strandliner events mean we can gauge the health of the ocean from what washes up.
We've been finding plastic from North America. You can tell where it's from by the writing, for example on the these lobster trap tags.
Some things are actually treasure, for example, these seabeans, seeds which have floated all the way from tropical America.The heart-shaped one is known as the Sea Heart. We find tree bark from Canada.
You gets loads of little pens, the sort you get in betting shops. They've not been dropped on the beach. They've been dropped down drains and found their way into rivers.
Then you've got nurdles, which are pre-production plastic, and bio beads used in waste water treatment..
We get lots of ink cartridges.
Helium balloon releases are lethal to wildlife. they are sold as 'biodegradable' but that can take 10 years.
People often blame the local fishing industry for litter, bits of old nets etc, but you have no idea how old what you're finding is, nor where it's come from.
There are so many possibilities about the origins of beach debris. Container spills from a long way away. The fishing industry on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA.
A comment we most often get from people who come on our surveys is: "I'll never be able to walk on the beach in the same way again".
My co-director and fellow board-member is Amanda Snowdon. Strandliners receives support from Rother District Council, Surfers Against Sewage, the Marine Conservation Society, Little Cheyne Court Wind Farm Fund, Sea-Changers, the Rye Fund, Jempson’s, BreakFreeFromPlastic, Sussex Community Foundation as well as individual donors.
For more information on Strandliners and to sign up for their monthly newsletter, see here
Andy is giving a talk in March entitled Beachcombing in the Southeast - My Search for the Seabean.