Am Bratach No. 309
July 2017

Postie’s post
by Mark Gilbert

This time next year I could be a millionaire!

I thought this when the debate on the morning phone-in on BBC Radio Scotland was about litter and the proposal that a deposit on cans and bottles could be a possible solution to stop people “wanging” them out of their vehicle windows or just dropping them in the streets. The suggestion was for 20p an item and I pick up lots of them.

To help me I have even bought myself one of those litter-picking sticks to help me retrieve items from over fences and from drainage ditches. I bought it because all the fences have barbed wire on them because of livestock and the can or bottle was always just far enough away to get me hooked up on the barbs. I have also made the mistake of trying to retrieve from a ditch and finding that it is deeper than it looks and I nearly disappeared from view.

This debate was right up my street, because I have always been a “womble”, a term for someone who picks up litter. In fact, Paul, the Skerray postie, even used the term when he was planning to take my van in for some new tyres. He told Susan at Bettyhill Post Office to tell me to get my “wombling box of rubbish” out of the van in readiness for him to take it to Lairg.

My subject this month covers littering in its many forms: good littering, bad littering and senseless littering. I will leave you to decide which is which.

Let’s start with the Highland Council, which is actually involved in quite a bit of this subject. I sent them an email in October 2016 telling them about the litter I pick up, made some simple suggestions to them that could help to reduce the amount dropped and also pointed out that the outlying areas don’t have street cleaners such as I have seen in Thurso, Wick and Inverness.

One of my suggestions was to ask the council workers who always seem to be two up in their vans if they could pick up items as they travelled around the area, or to report the items to their manager. One of the managers copied me into his response in an email after another manager shared my suggestions with him. He said his people don’t have the time! I don’t really have the time either, but I do it because if I didn’t there are not many others that do.

I also commented on the fact that there are numerous road signs littering the area, which are left after improvements, repairs etc. Since I told them, none have been collected and are still growing into the verges and they have also been added to in great numbers.

Between Badenloch Lodge and Kinbrace there was a section of road repaired just after I sent the email to the council. The signs were quite new when they were put up, but have now deteriorated and are mainly wrecked by the roadside. On this latest section there are at least nineteen dead signs plus some sandbags and there are about another fifteen signs and sandbags on my route up Strathnaver over to Kinbrace. These are the ones I can see. If this is repeated elsewhere the council must have more money than they let on, because I checked online and the average cost of these signs is around £35 each, so I would estimate there are about £1,100 of assets that have been left to die on the roadside in the last two years on this short route.

The roadside has lots of littering examples. Unfortunately there are potholes littering the road edges on the tourist cycling routes which force the John o’ Groater’s to take evasive action on the single track roads. This really should have been sorted out before the start of the season, especially with the added traffic the North Coast 500 has attracted.

The majority of bottles and cans I pick up are empty energy drinks containers and I think they are dropped mainly by parcel delivery drivers (not posties) from outside the area. One of my suggestions to the council, which they thought would be simple and effective, was for them to write to the delivery companies and ask that they instruct their drivers to take a bag with them and then bring back these items for recycling.

A few weeks after I suggested this idea to the council I had a Sky engineer call at my house to sort out my dish. As I spoke to him while he sat in his van, I noticed he had a bag attached to the dashboard with cans and paper in it. I asked him what it was and he said that all the Sky personnel take their rubbish back to be recycled. I told him of my idea and he agreed that it would save lots of rubbish going to the verges.

Perhaps people are not educated the same these days, because I can remember when I was a wee boy, lots of years ago, we were always told not to leave litter and even though most of my memories are now in black and white, I can’t remember seeing litter back then. As with most things these days, if youngsters see parents doing something, they will also do it, so it may be a good idea to teach this sort of responsibility in schools and thus instil a community pride in the next generation.

Back to the roadside. What a joy spring is: the roadside on my route is littered with nature’s delights. Spring lambs learning how to survive the traffic, seemingly attached to their mothers by an elastic cord and then lying together so close to the road in the confidence that they are safe. They just look up as calm as you like as you drive past within inches.

There are also the pheasant cocks strutting the verges looking for the seemingly lesser population of hens. They panic and run around like headless chickens as you approach. Why they don’t just stand still and remain safe is a mystery.

This year spring saw the verges littered with the most spectacular display of wild primroses. The fine displays of daffodils on the verge banks next to Cathy Macleod’s house and No 3 Strathnaver also helped me forget the bad littering. Just for the moment.

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