Boardwalks and Bridges and Access to Nature....
(You'll thank me for this. Sing the above in the style of "My Favourite Things". Go on! You're welcome!)
Plastic bottles make up a huge percentage of the litter brought in with each high tide around our coastline; often being considered rubbish and an unsightly nuisance. They are discarded from boats or blown off of land, float around in the sea, cause problems for our wildlife and then wash up on our shores. Congregating amongst the boulders in small colonies or simply coming to the end of that leg of their journey on the tideline of a beach; often found whole or slowly (very slowly!) breaking down nestled amidst natural debris such as seaweed and Limpet shells.
The plastic bottles then either wash back out to sea again on the next high tide, when the wind is in the right direction, get buried in the dunes or under shifting sands, or they are collected and removed during beach cleans and disposed of through our local waste site at Porth Mellon.
But what has this got to do with boardwalks and bridges and access to nature I hear you ask?
Well, the answer is quite simple and in some respects surprising.
Over the past couple of weeks the Ranger Team have spent quite a bit of time at Lower Moors near and around the Isles of Scilly Bird Group Hide. If you’ve walked through that way you will have seen the hustle and bustle of activity and know that changes were afoot.
During this time the Ranger Team have removed the old, rotten, wooden bridge and boardwalk, adorned with chicken wire to prevent users from slipping on it, and replaced it with something new and different. And this is where plastic bottles come in.
The new bridge and boardwalk to the Isles of Scilly Bird Group hide is made from plastic bottles; more than 22,000 of them in fact! These are all bottles that have been diverted from landfill and shows that recycling not only works but that we can benefit from it, even in Scilly!
Now for the techy part…
The decking (the part of the boardwalk which you walk on and can see) is made in the UK, using a mixture of post-consumer waste (the kinds of things coming from households which are collected for recycling by most Local Authorities, i.e. plastic bottles, containers and pots etc) and post-industrial scrap (plastics left over following the manufacturing of the products we buy).
The planks used in the decking are made of high grade recycled, high density polyethylene; this is extruded (a high-volume manufacturing process in which raw plastic is melted and formed into a continuous profile) and is specially made to get the rough surface texture (a process discovered by accident but which produces a really effective surface). The substructure is also made in the UK and the posts are made in Germany from similar materials.
The whole plastic structure also includes UV stabilisers; these help to create the more natural brown colour of the boardwalk so it looks nicer in our natural environment but also protects the boardwalk from disintegrating in the sunlight. Anyone that has seen plastic bottles on the beach will know that the process of breakdown and disintegration of plastic takes a very long time but with the UV stabilisers in the boardwalk it will take even longer; it will be 40-50 years before the top few millimetres start to fade and the structural strength of the boardwalk will remain sound for many years longer than that. So it’s a financially, as well as environmentally, sound investment which will benefit our Islands for a few generations to come!
How it's making a difference in Scilly....
This is the third boardwalk that the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust has installed, with AONB funding, on the Lower & Higher Moors Nature Trails made from recycled plastics. The first were put in place last year on the “the loop” at Higher Moors and the main pathway down through Lower Moors.
They are flexible and high impact resistant (as we tested with Red Class last week) and they do not rot or degrade in water; they are also unaffected by salt and salt water (which I think you’ll agree is imperative in Scilly!).
The previously mentioned textured rough surface not only looks nice aesthetically, making the plastic planks look more wood-like, but doubles up to ensure that the boardwalks do not get slippery when wet and therefore chicken-wire is no longer required; this is much safer and kinder for bare feet (whether they are human or canine) and also less of a trip hazard.
Have a look at the video which shows how the Ranger Team progressed over the two week period and the finished result!
Find out more about the work of the Isles of Scilly Wildlife trust www.ios-wildlifetrust.org.uk