Beach Warrior is the official website of the Penarth Society Beach Wardens

Who are the Penarth Society Beach Wardens?

The Penarth Society Beach Warden group was formed in August 2007 in response to widespread concern about the amount of litter on the beach. Penarth is a seaside resort. The town slogan is ‘The Garden by the Sea’ and without the sea, Penarth would be just another pleasant town. It is the sea that makes Penarth a special place and it is the sea that draws visitors to the Esplanade and to the town itself. And the boundary between the land and the sea is the Beach. So the Beach is vitally important to Penarth. But in 2007 Penarth Beach had become a litter strewn eyesore and nobody seemed to be doing anything about it.

A survey carried out on the most accessible section of the beach, an area of approximately 650 metres, revealed over 400 pieces of rubbish. These included 56 assorted bits of plastic and polystyrene, 63 plastic bottles and no fewer than 143 drinks cans. There were also some large and difficult to manage items such as 8 car wheels, a pram, a bicycle minus its wheels, a mattress, one of the Council’s own litter bins, several traffic cones, and a lifebuoy which hopefully did not start off containing a person – there were in fact no dead bodies that we could see.

Beaches are strange animals when it comes to their management. The main section of Penarth Beach is actually owned by the Vale of Glamorgan Council but early correspondence with the Council quickly revealed that they did not in fact have a statutory obligation to manage the inter-tidal area on any beaches except those that are formally defined as Amenity Beaches, and Penarth was definitely not within that category. To be fair to the Council, regular, frequent cleaning of a mostly pebbly beach like Penarth, using paid Council staff, would have been prohibitively expensive and so spending large amounts of ratepayers cash cleaning the beach was obviously not going to be a high priority.

It was clear to us that someone would have to regularly engage in the dirty work of picking up the rubbish from the Beach. The Council couldn't do it so the only practical proposition was some form of volunteer group. As you might imagine, there are precedents for such groups and several national organisations that support their activities. These organisations provide expert technical and legal guidance and act as umbrella agencies for the management of marine environments. In coastal environments, probably the best known is the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). We also wanted to avoid schemes which had a political or commercial link and the Adopt-a-Beach scheme of the Marine Conservation Society seemed a good fit with our ambitions. Adopt-a-Beach is a scheme in which a named organiser registers a Beach with the Marine Conservation Society which then confers a sort of ‘problem ownership’ on that person. The Penarth Society decided that the formation of a volunteer group to keep the beach free of litter was a very worthwhile project and sponsored the formation of the Beach Warden scheme. Penarth Beach was duly registered with the Marine Conservation Society.

But none of this could proceed until we obtained the formal permission of the Beach owner (in this case the Vale of Glamorgan Council) to manage the Beach. We had naively assumed that this would be a straightforward task for the Council, but in these litigious times, nothing is straightforward. Despite the enthusiasm of the Council's Cleansing department and the support of a senior Councillor, it still took a year of negotiation during which we were required to carry out a full Health & Safety Risk Assessment, create a variety of documented policies, set up a formal registration process for everyone who wanted to become a Beach Warden and indemnify the Council for £5,000,000 before they were eventually prepared to provide us with a licence to pick up the litter. Thankfully, once all of the i's had been dotted and the t's crossed, we were able to develop a very effective working relationship with the Council, who provide us with litter-picker devices, protective gloves and an ample supply of black bin bags. They also pick up the filled bags from pre-arranged locations and dispose of them on the Council facilities.

The Penarth Beach Wardens have amassed a great deal of experience in how to deal with difficult beaches. We have now extended the length of beach we cover outside of that owned by the Vale Council and into an area owned by the Crown Estate and one section which is privately owned. This took the total area covered to approximately 4 kilometres. We have also acquired a grant via the Tidy Towns initiative for purchase of anti-graffiti equipment and one of our Wardens has developed a portable, 'pocket-sized' kit for use on the beach.

If you live near a beach with a litter problem, and you have been considering setting up your own volunteer group, why not give us a call. The initial procedures can be very challenging but the satisfaction of eventually winning the beach litter war makes it all worthwhile.