Meet the mountain bikers who keep the UK countryside clean
A UK mountain bike enthusiast has inspired a community of cyclists, hikers and joggers to clean up the field of rubbish.
It all started with an Instagram post: a close-up of a mud-splattered face, the outline of a cyclist behind. The hashtags #pinitandbinit and #protectwhatyoulove followed. The post attracted only 62 likes, but a movement was born.
The man behind the post, Dom Ferris, a 42-year-old mountain bike enthusiast, draws attention to the name of the Instagram account. TrashFreeTrails. It evokes the hope that, to cite that first post in October 2017, achieving litter-free biking and walking trails is perfectly possible “if” (and here’s the big deal) “we act together.”
Choosing the name for the grassroots cleanup movement felt like a critical first step, reflects Ferris: “It is very important to me that we are not seen as against something; it’s about what we’re up for ”.
Fast forward three and a half years, and the Ferris idea has spawned hundreds of garbage collection outings by individuals and groups across Britain.
In a landmark move, he and Rich Breeden (the only other full-time employee at Trash Free Trails) also recently released the State of our Trails report, the nation’s first inventory of land-based plastic pollution.
However, not everything has been easy. Ferris spent the first few years “bogged down” trying to establish a formal organization. At the time, he was working for Surfers against Sewage (SAS), running the charity’s successful beach clean-up program. “I forgot where I was [SAS] “That basically it was two or three people who began to act and then others followed his call to arms,” he recalls.
“For me it is very important that they do not see us as if we are against something; it’s all about what we’re here for, ”says Ferris. Image: Sam Dugon
So that’s what he did. An Instagram image here, a blog post there. His interest piqued, his mountain biking friends began asking how they could get involved. They told their friends. “And the rest is history,” laughs Ferris.
That makes it seem like Trash Free Trails has a lot of experience under its belt. It is not like this. While the initiative is now a community interest endeavor and is firmly grounded in eight core values (eg ‘Celebrate every voluntary act’ and ‘Never use blame, shame, blame’), almost everything else is in play.
Ferris firmly believes in inspiring and empowering people and then leaving them to their own devices. In Trash Free Trails, they use “inspo” to describe it. That is consistent with another linguistic novelty they like: ‘DIO’, short for ‘Do It Ourselves’.
A mountain biker hauls some discarded machines. Image: Sam Dugon
The focus leaves the movement flexible. So when Covid hit, for example, Ferris encouraged people to draw maps of their daily walks – the good, the bad, and the dirty. Dubbed the Selfless Isolation Project, the idea subtly changed garbage collection from an isolated act to a means of reconnecting with nature.
Similarly, when the principal of a children’s referral school in Wakefield called and asked to use the Trash Free Trails logo for a clean-up activity, Ferris immediately agreed. Not only that: he suggested that his students would also like to learn to ride a mountain bike.
Out of that casual phone call came the idea for Trash Mob Academy, a six-week program for young people to learn about the current problem of single-use plastic alongside cycling classes. After two successful pilot tests, the model is ready to be rolled out in other reference units across the country.
The Trash Mob Academy teaches people how to ride a bike and about the dangers of single-use plastic. Image: Rich Baybutt
Ferris tells the story of one of the first participants in the pilot, a 13-year-old boy who had suffered racist harassment. The boy not only befriended his main tormentor throughout the course, but also gained enough confidence to start a garbage collection group on his own street.
As Ferris points out: “This is a boy who was totally disconnected and who has now, on his own account, become a leader in his own community.”
Lead Image: Sam Dugon