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Protecting coasts and rivers

National Trust volunteers and staff cleaning Bossington Beach, on the Holnicote Estate, Exmoor National Park, Somerset.
National Trust staff and volunteers cleaning Bossington beach | © National Trust Images/John Millar

The places we love are facing pressures like never before, through climate change, pollution and poor water management. But we can all help by making small changes in our own lives. Learn more about our work to protect precious coasts and rivers for wildlife and people, and what you can do to help.

UK coasts and rivers

As an island nation, we have a strong connection to the coast, in fact no one in the UK lives more than 75 miles from the sea. For centuries, our beaches have provided us with relaxation, adventure, and inspiration and our seas are a sanctuary for wildlife and home to thousands of species.

Precious waterways

Rivers are also a vital part of our natural world. They are the corridors which feed our landscapes, where our wildlife and plant communities thrive. They provide water for us to drink as well as for crops to grow.

Tips to save water

One way we can help our rivers and seas is to use less water in our daily lives. We've come up with some simple ways you can reduce your water use.

Save water with what you wear

Think about ‘embedded water’. It can take nearly 3,000 litres of waters to make just one T-shirt sold on the high street. You could save water by buying less or buying second hand.

Shower power

Undertake the 4-minute shower challenge and use one song during your shower. You could also buy a shower head that gives you the feel of a high-pressure shower but uses less water.

Flushed with success

Choose a low flush toilet if you’re refitting the bathroom. Toilets made before 2001 use up to three times more water than new models. Also, check your toilet isn’t leaking by looking at the back of the bowl 30 minutes after flushing. If it’s still wet and ‘running’ then you have a leak. Across the UK this accounts for up to 400 million litres of water a day.

Single-use plastic in rivers and seas

Every single piece of plastic ever created still exists in some form today. Since its invention over 8 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced worldwide, and over 6 billion tonnes persist as waste. The majority accumulates in landfills, or ends up as pollution in rivers, seas, and land. The good news is that we can all do something about it.

Ranger on the beach kneeling amongst washed-up plastic detergent bottles on Poldhu beach at Lizard Point, Cornwall
Plastic detergent bottles on Poldhu beach, Lizard Point | © National Trust Images/Layla Astley

Our commitments to reduce plastic pollution

We’ll continuously seek to reduce, reuse and recycle single-use plastics to the maximum extent possible, working with our suppliers, industry and supporters to minimise our impact on the environment. Our starting point will always be to source non-single-use plastic wherever we can. To achieve maximum impact where single-use plastic remains a challenge, the National Trust Retail and Food and Beverage teams are joining the UK Plastics Pact.

The UK Plastics Pact is transforming the way that the UK makes, uses and disposes of plastic, creating a sustainable system for plastics using a circular approach. This means problematic plastics are eliminated and packaging is designed and made with recycled materials. They’re also easily collected, sorted and recycled into new packaging.

By joining the UK Plastics Pact, we’ll trial new business models and innovations with the aim of reducing the amount of packaging on our shelves in our retail shops and cafés.

Under the UK Plastics Pact targets we are committed to:

  • Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery models
  • Ensure 100 per cent of plastics packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable
  • 70 per cent of plastics packaging effectively recycled or composted and 30 percent average recycled content across all plastic packaging.

We continue to work with our plant suppliers for alternatives to single-use plastics in its plant nurseries and plant sales areas.

By working towards these targets, we’ll minimise our impact on the environment while continuing to provide a brilliant proposition to our supporters.

Keeping the coastline tidy

Cleaning up beach litter is important to prevent further damage to our marine and coastal wildlife. We have over 780 miles of coastline in our care, and organise regular clean-up events at UK beaches. Some of these are in partnership with organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society.

How you can help reduce plastic waste

We need your help to make sure the places we love remain special. Kicking the plastic habit isn't always easy so we've come up with some top tips to help you cut down on plastic waste.

Swap to plastic-free products
An easy way to help our rivers and seas is to reduce your monthly plastic consumption. Carry a reusable cup or water bottle, get your milk delivered or use beeswax wraps instead of cling film to cover leftovers. 
Reduce plastic microfibres
From acrylic jumpers to polyester dresses, many items of clothing contain plastic. Use guppy laundry bags in the washing machine to catch plastic microfibres and stop them entering our waterways.
Reuse plastic items
Think of new uses for plastic items you would normally throw away. Reuse takeaway tubs instead of buying new Tupperware. Make bird feeders out of plastic bottles or turn an old colander into a hanging basket for your plants.
Wellington boots used as containers planted with daffodils in the gardens at Dunham Massey, Cheshire
Wellington boots used as plant containers at Dunham Massey | © National Trust Images/John Miller
Buy recycled gifts
Gifts made from recycled materials are fun, quirky, and good for the environment. We sell a range of pots made from recycled plastic, and even a duck sculpture made from old fridges.
Join a beach clean
Seeing your favourite beach covered in litter really brings home the threat plastic pollution poses to oceans and wildlife. Why not join one of our regular beach cleans? Grab a litter picker and turn a beach near you back into a paradise spot.
Refuse plastic
We all have the power to stem the flow of plastic into our lives. Challenging the plastic we're confronted with makes a difference. Is the plastic item non-recyclable or unnecessary? Many of the UK’s biggest retailers are taking environmentally friendly measures after feedback from their customers.
Speak to your council
How satisfied are you with your local council’s recycling service? Local authority recycling schemes can vary from street to street. Approach your council if you need clarity on what items can be recycled, or you want to know how much of your recycling will end up in landfill.
Grow your own veg
Avoid plastic supermarket packaging by growing your own veg, fruit and herbs. Home grown produce is free from nasty fertilisers and tastes amazing. Even those with small gardens can grow herbs in window boxes and potatoes, carrots, beetroot, and tomatoes in raised beds.
Ranger in National Trust fleece inspecting white blossom on tree in orchard

For everyone, for ever

We protect and care for places so people and nature can thrive. Find out who we are and what we stand for.

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