We've followed the adventures of the Trash Free Trails team for a while and are always inspired by their work to keep the trails we use clean + protected, but also the education they provide to leave a 'positive trace' and respect the wild places that we enjoy. Whilst many of us are adventuring in new areas in the UK this Summer, we thought this would be a great time to chat to founder Dom Ferris, to find out how we can all do our bit to look after the trails we explore.
Words & Photography by Dom Ferris from Trash Free Trails
Where did the idea for Trash Free Trails originate?
On January the 8th 2017 I posted about Trash Free Trails on Instagram for the very first time. At that time I was working for Surfers Against Sewage as their Head of Community & Engagement and I’d had a front row seat for the awesome explosion of grassroots awareness and action to tackle ocean plastic pollution that had taken place since 2010.
At that point, it had been more than four years since I had first recognized the stark difference between the marine conservation movement and the deafening silence in ‘our world’ of trails, wild places and the terrestrial ecosystems that host them. It had also been more than four years since I had decided that I needed to try to do something about that fact.
What took me so long? The answer is simple! I was massively overcomplicating things. I had become bogged down by trying to build an 'organisation', paralysed by a perceived need to have a strategy, a website, funding, scientific evidence and a professional team. What I had forgotten, however, is the most important part... that Trash Free Trails would not, could not exist without a strong and empowered grassroots community.
I realised that my first and most important job was to build that grassroots community. All I had to do was start! Trash Free Trails have now been a Community Interest Company for 18 months. We have a wonderfully supportive ecosystem of partners including Trek Bicycles UK, Bosch eBike Systems, The North Face and the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA). We are able to pay 4 people to deliver our work. Our Ambassador (A-Team) programme is now 3 years old and 30 strong, with international team-mates in Nepal, New Zealand and Poland. And, in partnership with Bangor University, our 5 year State of Our Trails Report is producing pioneering scientific research on the impacts of single use pollution on our trails and wild places. However, most importantly, we have now built that grassroots community of 1000s of riders, runners and roamers across the world who have come together as stewards of their trails and wild places to remove TONNES of single-use pollution from over 400 locations. In short, we have a #TRASHMOB.
2021 marks the beginning of a thrilling new phase for Trash Free Trails and we’re extraordinarily grateful that Millican would like to share our story with your community.
Who makes up your community and how can others get involved?
Whether you’re a rider, runner or roamer everyone is welcome to #JoinTheTrashMob! The outdoors in the UK isn’t always an inclusive place. Society in general isn’t always an inclusive place. Trash Free Trails is and always will be. This is important to us, not just because it's the right thing, but because if we don’t represent EVERYONE, how will we ever reach those people who are disconnected from the outdoors?
From World Champion mountain bikers like Reece Wilson to youngsters in our inner cities who seek out rare patches of nature, the first, and most important, step is to recognise that YOU can make a positive difference to the health of your trails and wild places.
Far from being an ‘umbrella’ organisation, we aim to be a ‘root system’ for community led stewardship. One that encourages and empowers people to recognise that they already have everything they need in their heads, hands and hearts to DIO (DO IT OURSELVES!)
As an organisation, we are about action. We will not achieve our mission simply by talking. We and everyone who joins our cause will be the ones who make a difference. We can encourage, coach, empower and inspire others. Ultimately, only we can Do It Ourselves.
As more people are exploring trails closer to home this Summer, what are your top tips for looking after the environments they explore?
The first thing we remind ourselves of is the importance of keeping it simple! The simple fact is that our trails and wild places are becoming choked by single use pollution (fka; Litter!) and that a primary cause of this is an increasing societal disconnection from nature. The cool thing is, if this is in any way true, that the solution is simple! All we have to do is remove the single-use pollution that’s already escaped and REconnect people with nature.
- RECOGNISE > When you head out to ride, run or roam, observe the things that you love as well as the things (like litter) that you don’t. Take time to truly recognise your trails and wild places and how they make you feel - #hereforthetrails
- REMOVE > Commit to leaving a positive trace each time you visit your trails and wild places For us it’s not enough to simply not litter. We want to make a positive impact by removing the results of the careless actions of others - #LeaveAPositiveTrace
- REPORT > By sharing what you found and why you chose to take action you will inform and inspire others and contribute to our #StateofOurTrailsReport as #CitizenScientists
- REWARD > #MyTrails are #TrashFreeTrails - This is the most important part by far! I won't try to put it into words because the environmental writer, Edward Abbey says it perfectly;
For those who’d like to go a step further and begin leading their family, friends, school and/or community we’ve created our step by step DIO Trail Clean Toolkit, which you can find HERE
Your team’s mission is to work towards creating 'the perfect conditions for people to explore their world through purposeful adventure’. What does 'purposeful adventure’ mean to you and how can others discover their own?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that; "The purpose in life is not to be ‘happy’. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived well”.
At its core #PurposefulAdventure is about using the sense of awe, wonder and openness of heart that feeling adventurous evokes in us to #LeaveAPositiveTrace of our passing through our trails and wild places. From deciding to take a trash bag on your daily dog walk on your local footpaths to organising a mountaineering expedition to the Himalayas that also includes carrying humanitarian aid to communities who have been hit by monsoon flooding adding purpose to your adventures, however big or small, will not only make a positive difference to the world around you but will also enhance your experience. We promise!
What is one of the proudest moments you’ve had whilst growing the Trash Free Trail community?
Ohhhhhh dear, this is a broad question, especially for someone with a tendency to ramble! So, I’ll just go for what first springs to mind. Luckily it’s a kind of two for one deal. In May we received an email from one of our A-TEAMers that may, if we’re honest, induced a tear or two. The A-TEAMer in question is an amazing woman called Jo. Jo is a teacher at a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Wakefield and she was regaling us (Rich our Projects Coordinator) with an incredible story about Moheen (one of the 5 13 and 14 year old lads from her class) who had come into school that day and told her that he had been organising community litter picks of his street in Wakefield. This was massive. In the simplest of terms, this does NOT happen. Moheen, or Mo to his mates, attends the PRU because he has disengaged with mainstream education and also struggles with behavioural issues. The same can be said for Mo’s classmates, like Billy and Logan. These kids do not organise community litter picks without something fundamental occurring! In October 2020 Mo, and his three classmates, were the first youngsters to graduate from our TrashMob Academy education programme. Our TrashMob Academy is a youth engagement project that seeks to improve self-esteem, confidence and overall well-being through the development of nature connection, attitudes to the environment and attitudes to single use pollution, with the opportunity to learn MTB skills as the catalyst for change.
As an organisation we aim to do more than ‘hope’ that what we are doing is creating positive change, we intend to demonstrate it at all levels. We believe that this quote from Jo is a pretty great example of that in action;
“This 6 week programme may not have changed the world, but we have changed their world”
And, to add a little extra flourish to this story, Jo and Harry the cycling coach are now members of the TFT A-TEAM aaaaaaaaaaaand we have been able to recruit our first full time employee, Rich Breeden, to lead the project!
Any new projects coming up we should know about?
Loads! But I’ll try and practice what I preach and keep it simple. I’m excited to say that we will soon be announcing our Halloween Trail Clean Tour! The spooky offspring of our famous Spring Trail Clean Tour, the Halloween Trail Clean Tour 2021 will see our HQ Team respond to calls for help from 7 trail communities across the UK, who have become overwhelmed with the scale of the single use pollution crisis. With their permission we’ll pull together an elite team of trail clean experts and equipment to ‘exorcise’ the trash that’s haunting their trails. We’ll also be calling for 100 trail communities across the world to lead their own Halloween Trail Cleans at the same time.
We'll be launching this across al of our channels (and those of our amazing partners like Red Bull and Cotswolds) at the start of September.
What is your favourite everyday adventure?
I’ve rambled loads so far so I’ll answer this one in what I call a ‘word trail’ (a method I use to control my rambling! haha).
Coffee / bike / dog / mud / trees / swoopy feeling / silliness / swim / pause / leaving a positive trace to say thank you to the wild places that have given me so much.