This week I spoke with the enthusiastic Dom Ferris, former boss of Beach Cleans at SAS and now CEO of Trash Free Trails. Dom’s charity incorporates his two greatest loves; mountain biking and saving the world.
Hey Dom, thanks for taking the time to chat to us! How was 2020 for you in a nutshell?
I’m not great at keeping things in a nutshell! January and February were really exciting because I made the commitment to go all in on Trash Free Trails. On February 25th we became a CIC, which is a big deal for me as a former feral animal! Then suddenly – lockdown.
At first it was a shock and I was worried because we weren’t completely set up. Plus initially we were all about gathering people together, so lockdown made this tough.
My first thought when lockdown hit, after my family and friends, was, ‘am I still going to be able to access nature?’ I assumed this question would be similar for a lot of people. This gave me a role to play as outside spaces are extremely valuable for people’s mental and physical health. TFT was just about to launch the Spring Trail Clean Tour and as a part of this we were hoping to gather 50 to 100 people across 10 different locations. Obviously there was no chance of this happening, so we changed our campaign to DIY Trail Clean Tours and came up with the strap-line, “we don’t have to be together to work together.” This idea got around the issue of crowds, however a few people voiced their concerns over picking up other people’s litter during a pandemic.
That all sounds really promising, but how did you get around the issue of litter picking worries in a pandemic?
Whilst out walking the dog during my lockdown exercise I had a revelation! The sun came through the trees and I rediscovered my ‘why’. I remembered why I was doing all of this, what these natural places do for me and what I owe them. I then also realised how I came to this ‘why’ – by slowing down.
From this, we developed the Selfless Isolation Project. We encouraged people to get involved, starting with the first step which was – nothing! We asked people to set out on their daily walk/ trail tour and simply notice their surroundings. By bringing your attention to the surrounding nature, you can get out of your busy brain and be fully aware of what’s happening around you. We also encouraged ‘forest bathing’. This leads to 3 more things; observing (paying attention to points of interest), knowing (involving mapping your home trails) and expedition planning (taking action to protect your local area). This campaign sparked loads of connections with ambassadors, people and partners. Off the back of this idea we’ve been able to plan the next 4 years worth of projects!
You can find out more about the Selfless Isolation Project and Purposeful Adventure here – https://www.trashfreetrails.org/purposefuladventure
Whoa! Big year for you then Dom! Tell us about your 2021 plans for Trash Free Trails.
We’ve put out our first ever Impact Report of what’s been achieved since we started in 2017. We have also just launched our 2021 Route Map, a beautifully illustrated infographic map which shows our projects for the year, using the OS grid system, showing which month the project is happening in and the strategic priority. We are also asking people to join our Trash Mob Community for the year ahead.
We have awesome projects planned; mass participation trail cleans such as the Spring Trail Clean and the Autumn Litter Watch; a brand new education programme called the Trash Mob Academy; Plentiful Adventures which is happening this summer; expanding and updating our ambassador team, loads of stuff really!
We’ve also been lucky enough to receive enough support that we’ve taken on our first full time employee, a project coordinator.
We run a 2 Minutes of Positivity campaign which started at the beginning of lockdown. It promotes doing something small every day that makes you happy. Did you incorporate wellbeing into your charity because of the pandemic, or is it something you’ve always thought about?
I’ve always worked in the outdoors and known how important it is. A really pivotal moment was when I was running a beach clean over 10 years ago and I realised that people didn’t just come for the litter pick, but for the company and camaraderie. I also met an older man who was really shy, a bit awkward and didn’t seem to fit in. It was obvious he desperately wanted to get involved and engage but was struggling. He was the first at the beach clean, went the furthest, and left last. There was a moment when we were bent down together collecting micro-beads and I had a revelation that we’d found a positive thing in common; we loved doing something to make a positive difference. No matter what we suffered from mentally, we could share this similarity.
In our line of conservation work if we try and distill the problem down to one word, it’s connection. Disconnection is driving the problem. Disconnection from selves, from environment and from community. If we can create more positive connection it can do nothing but good.
I found my purpose in protecting the environment and I hope the work we do helps other people find this too.
From what you’ve learnt over the past years, is there anything that you’d like to encourage people to do differently in 2021?
There’s a reason I called the charity Trash Free Trails and not Riders Against Rubbish. I find it a really useful exercise to think ‘what am I for?’ and not, ‘what am I against?’ That’s the starting point, and it transcends into this question; has shock, outrage, ill-will or shame ever solved anything? If you’re angry on social media about the amount of litter you’ve found, will that stop it from being there? No! Firstly, it definitely won’t, we know it in our hearts. Secondly, there is scientific evidence to prove that using shock, guilt or blame tactics is corrosive and won’t help what you’re trying to solve. So I’d encourage people to think, ‘what am I for?’ to bring about the change they are trying to make.
One more thing! Remember to reward yourself and others for the efforts you are putting in. It’s incredible. If we don’t we might loose our ‘why’.
If you want to get involved with Trash Free Trails you can check out the website by clicking here. Dom is also looking for volunteers to help out on his Spring Trail Clean in April, and would love to see as many people out litter picking on the trails as possible.