From the guys that brought us Surfers Against Sewage comes the trail stewardship initiative every mountain biker should be getting behind, Trash Free Trails.
With mountain biking’s ever growing popularity, litter is one of the pitfalls of that growth. Pete had a chat with Dom Ferris about how he’s planning on getting us to clean up our act.
Photos courtesy of Trash Free Trails.
What is Trash Free Trails?
We are a community organisation who promotes environmental stewardship amongst mountain bikers.
Who is Dom Ferris?
I am the founder of Trash Free Trails. I’m a surfer and mountain biker living in Cornwall… I believe it’s our responsibility to protect them and I’m here to ask for help
What’s your background in cycling?
From Pro-Flex 550 to Jeffsy CF Pro 29, I’m a mountain biker. It is perhaps the only label I’m comfortable giving myself.
I raced XC in the early 1990s and even came an accidental 3rd in the 1993 National Dual Slalom finals. I lost myself to surfing and partying during the 2000s before re-discovering this incredible sport in 2010. I’m now racing again and am fully hooked on MTB travel ticking off trips to California, Madeira and Portugal in recent years.
What’s your background in the cycle industry?
I instructed in North Wales during the early 2000s and even worked for a few months at the ‘legendary’ Bike Chain – Ricci in Cornwall, but other than that I’m simply a customer, participant and fan.
What’s your involvement in Surfers Against Sewage?
I’ve been with SAS Since 2010 and am now the Head of Community and Engagement, which means it’s my job to encourage and enable people to help us create plastic free coastlines.
Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) is a national marine conservation and campaigning charity that inspires, unites and empowers communities to take action to protect oceans, beaches, waves and wildlife.
Tackling ocean plastic pollution and society’s slavish reliance on single-use ‘throwaway’ plastics through our Plastic Free Coastlines campaign is our priority.
How did Trash Free Trails come about?
I could spout loads of stats, but the truth is that I couldn’t handle the sheer scale of littering that I was witnessing on our trails.
It seemed that not a mile could pass without seeing casually discarded plastic bottles (which take 450-1000 years to break down), sweet wrappers, gel sachets, cable ties and inner tubes. Wherever I rode I couldn’t escape it and I certainly couldn’t ignore it.
In short I was pissed off, but however much I enjoyed the trailside rants I soon came to realise that if I really cared that much then I actually needed to do something about it.
Mahatma Gandhi (a keen cyclist himself) had it right when he said that you have to; “be the change you want to see in the world.” And so Trash Free Trails was born.
How many people make up TFT and what do they do?
Currently two. Ellie, our lead designer and myself. It’s our job to connect each and every rider across the UK who wants to protect what they love.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
Nothing really, I want do this. I guess it’s just time, tiredness and a little sanity!
Did you have day jobs that you had to give up?
No, I do TFT work outside of my day job. However it’s amazing to have the backing of my colleagues at SAS. Our CEO Hugo is a keen mountain biker and he’s been super supportive. If we get it right Trash Free Trails will also support the work that SAS is doing.
Are you working alongside to make ends meet?
No, but to take TFT to the next level we need some real resources. Finding these will be our first real test.
How make or break is the company for you?
Totally, but not in a financial sense! The sheer volume of plastic pollution that our society is creating is literally suffocating our planet and we’ve all got to figure out a way to turn the tide.
What sort of work have you done in the past and how did it help with TFT?
What TFT is trying to achieve mirrors the work I’ve been doing at SAS. Grassroots activism works and I believe this is the best and quickest way to achieve positive change.
How did you learn what you needed to know to get your own momentum behind the initiative?
I’ve led the growth of SAS’s beach clean community from 1,000 to 30,000 volunteers in 9 years, removing 250,000kg of litter from the UK’s beaches.
Setting small, achievable goals and reaching them together is incredibly powerful. This type of grassroots activism fuels itself and I strongly believe that the mountain bike community is ready to create trash free trails.
Other than spilling a beer bottle full of piss (from a trail clean) in my car, it’s been plain sailing.
Favourite moments so far?
Getting thanked for doing a trail clean by a local rider in the Gwydr Trail car-park made me proud and gave me a boost when I was worried I wouldn’t have the energy to get TFT off the ground.
Receiving an email of support from Steve Peat (who we’ll be doing more with soon!) was pretty cool.
However if I had to choose one thing that keeps us stoked is that we’re already hearing from MTB communities across the UK including Crews like the Dyffryn Trail Crew, Le Mons De Velo in Shropshire and the Tubes Don’t Grow on Trees boys. They are the very foundations of Trash Free Trails.
Where next for TFT? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?
Through our R.A.D solutions programme, we aim to create change from grassroots to governance, starting with a massive reduction in the amount of litter on our trails.
· R – Fostering and celebrating RIDER’S RESPONSIBILITY
· A – Creating and supporting AWARENESS & ACTION
· D – Working with industry to DESIGN & DEVELOP more sustainable products and events
We aim to achieve this by connecting mountain bikers across the UK and uniting them in action.
THE HERE AND NOW – From this point on and for as long as it takes our R.A.D programme will;
· Celebrate, create and connect TFT communities
· Encourage and support citizen science (trail litter counts), trail cleans and media awareness
· Engage with the MTB industry
· Build relationships with key regional trail centres and compile data
6 -12 MONTHS ALONG THE TRAIL – By winter 2018 R.A.D will have created and delivered;
· 52 fully activated TFT communities
· An interactive website
· Evidence of environmental and economic impacts and solutions
· The inaugural ‘Great Trail Clean’
· 10 official TFT approved trail centres
· 2 TFT approved race events
· TFT re-’CYCLED’ ocean and trail plastic MTB products
If you’re ready to get involved follow and tag us @trashfreetrails and let us know about your #trashfreetrails actions. You can also drop Dom an email at dom AT sas.org.uk to offer whatever you can.
Anybody to thank at this point in the TFT journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
– Ellie Ewart, without her incredible talent and work ethic Trash Free Trails simply wouldn’t exist.
– My boss Hugo and rest of the guys at SAS.
– Sandy Plenty at Trailhead in Shrewsbury for his encouragement from an industry angle.
– My own riding community ‘The Lords of Loam’ for being my sounding boards.
– Most importantly, thanks in advance to the Trash Free Trail communities!