Robot pirate ships set sail to launch biggest clean-up of UK’s rivers

Two robot pirate ships set sail in London’s Docklands to mark the launch of the UK’s largest ever collaborative push to prevent and reduce the amount of litter entering our waterways, and subsequently the ocean. The Treasure Your River campaign aims to remove 95 tonnes of litter and prevent a further 90 tonnes from entering seven of the UK’s vital river systems that are home to a wide array of wildlife. That’s the equivalent in weight of 740 grey seals or 1,423 harbour seals, both commonly seen in the Thames estuary or 42 baby minke whales similar to ‘Minnie’ rescued from the Thames this week.

Treasure Your River will tackle litter in the rivers Avon, Forth, Mersey, Severn, Taff, Thames and Trent and their tributaries. The campaign is being run by environmental charity Hubbub and supported by The Coca-Cola Foundation, and will initially focus on prevention and clean-up activities on seven major cities based on these rivers – Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Nottingham, which between them are home to 1 in 6 of the UK population.

In 2019, Hubbub’s polling found that 75% of UK adults wanted to do more to help tackle marine litter. After a year of lockdown people’s appreciation of nature has risen further and Treasure Your River will provide more opportunities for people around the UK to get involved and help protect our rivers and seas. The pirate-themed campaign aims to create a legacy for each river, with an army of regular volunteers, litter-clearing equipment and improved ‘binfrastructure’. Large-scale activities like silent disco clean-ups will be combined with eye-catching interventions to educate the public on how they can make a difference through simple behaviour changes such as two-minute litter picks, litter-free picnics and the responsible disposal of fishing tackle. 

Gavin Ellis, Director and Co-founder of Hubbub said “As lockdown restrictions are lifted there is increased concern about the amount of litter in our public and green spaces. Treasure Your River aims to make the connection between litter in our towns and cities and plastic in the oceans, and to offer people something positive they can do about it. The majority of plastics in the oceans are carried there by rivers; the River Mersey for example has proportionately higher levels of microplastic pollution than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We invite any individual or organisations along these rivers to come together and help halt the flow of litter into the sea. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re a local business, a sailing club, a school, a charity or a resident.”  

Jon Woods, General Manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain on behalf of The Coca-Cola Foundation, said “To tackle the problem of marine litter at its source, The Coca-Cola Foundation is delighted to be funding Treasure Your River. We want to raise greater awareness of the causes of ocean pollution and the small steps each of us can take to make a difference. Together with our partners and thousands of volunteers, we hope to remove 95 tonnes of litter from our riverbeds and recycle as much of it as we can.”

The ambition to unite over 80 organisations in the clean-up is gaining strong support from businesses, charities, community groups and river users. Partner organisations already on board include Angling Trust, Canal & River Trust, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Keep Wales Tidy, Mersey Rivers Trust, Sustainable Hive and Thames21. The Rivers Trust are also partnering to independently measure the impact of the campaign, using technology including geotagging of litter reduction activities to create a map of the results of the nation’s collective efforts. This will be shared with partners including the Marine Conservation Society to build a wider map of UK litter. 

Christine Colvin, Director for Partnerships & Communications at The Rivers Trust said “Plastics are a serious pollution concern in our waterways, impacting not just rivers but ultimately the ocean. What’s wonderful about Treasure Your River is that it’s encouraging everyone to come together and address the problem where it really matters – at the source. We’re really happy to be contributing, with our expert data team measuring the results of the campaign so its impact will be clear and accessible for everyone to see.”

To find out more and sign up to the campaign visit

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