We Chat to Rich Breeden About Trash Free Trails’ Spring Trail Cleans.

With their Spring Trail Cleans in full swing, we catch up with Trash Free Trails’ project coordinator Rich Breeden to find out more.

Pete sat down for a chat with Rich Breeden to chat everything learned from the 2020 Autumn Litter Watch, 2021 Spring Trail Cleans and the road ahead.

Who is Rich Breeden?

First and foremost, as Projects Coordinator, I’m the first full time employee at Trash Free Trails (TFT). This might not sound like a lot, but for us it marks a massive step since our inception, a solitary Instagram post way back in the depths of 2017. We’ve now got payroll, pensions, training the lot, and I’m more than proud to be the first on the books.

I’ve always been a keen rider, but I really found my passion for MTB towards the end of 2017. The feelings evoked in us on the way to the trail, during a sketchy descent and even on the way home are something I am yet to find anywhere else, and something I can’t help but share with anyone I talk to. Ask my mates, they’ve all got bikes now…

I wanted to explore what it was about riding that makes people feel the way they do about it. Why do people travel hours and hours and spend thousands and thousands on the simple pleasure of riding a bike? What really interested me is if, or rather how, it could be used to help people.

For that reason I started a Masters in Psychology of Mental Health, at the University of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, largely due to coronavirus I was unable to conduct my studies with MTB specifically, but I was able to explore my passion for connection to nature, a big part of why MTB is so awesome surely?

Photo by Ian Lean.

How did you get involved with Trash Free Trails?

Dom gave me a call one day, having heard of my nature connection work at the University through my cousin Beth who’s the TFT designer in chief, and we immediately connected over a shared passion for connection itself; to people, places and more importantly, bikes.

At first, I was offering some advice to Dom on the State of Our Trails (SoOT) report, how it might be best used to collect the data he wanted it to, and how to capture the nature connection construct, as well as exploring the possibility of incorporating nature connection into more of the work that TFT was already doing.

TFT’s mission is to remove 75% of Single use Pollution from our trails and wild places by 2025, and reconnect people with nature through purposeful adventure. Both two fold, and inextricably linked; It’s one thing to try and remove all of that from the places we love, but if we don’t try and work out why and how it ended up there in the first place, then I’d wager that we’ll be back at square one in a few years time It’s that second part of the mission that hooked me. To re-connect people with nature.

We speculate that at least some of the reason why people trash our trails is because they are disconnected. To themselves, and others, but particularly nature. Essentially, that’s HOW we are going to remove all that SuP, through connection.

Then the planets aligned, and a teacher from a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) up in Wakefield asked if she could use the logo for a project she was running. The penny dropped, and we realised that we had an amazing opportunity. We had the chance to make a difference, to light a fire inside a small group of extremely disengaged young people with little connection to nature. And that’s exactly what we did. Using mountain bike skills and as a catalyst, we improved self esteem, confidence and overall wellbeing through nature connection, environmental education, and good old fashioned trail cleaning.

It’s gone from strength to strength and the acclaim the project received has been incredible. We’re so proud of what Jo, Harry, and the boys were able to achieve. We’ll be piloting the revamped programme over the summer, opening it up for PRUs, schools and other organisations to take part in. Take a look here for the report that followed that first pilot.

Photo by Rich Baybutt.

Last time we checked in with TFT, Autumn Litter Watch was about to kick off, what’s happened since then?

Yeow, that feels like some time ago now doesn’t it?

The first really cool thing TFT has been able to do since the (Autumn Litter Watch) ALW is to be able to public our first ever impact report. Part Impact Report, part photo album and part letter to a friend, it’s an incredibly proud moment when you are able to be a part of an organisation’s first Impact Report. Everything we have achieved, and everyone involved is in there, going right back to that fateful day in 2017 when Dom decided to post that first logo on the gram. You can find it here.

On the back of the Impact Report, the next one is huge. We were able to employ someone full time at the start of January. That’s me! It honestly fills me with so much pride, and I’m also incredibly humbled that Dom, the steering group and the A-TEAM have welcomed me on board as Project Coordinator. To be able to work in such an amazing team, in an industry that’s SO close to my heart, is just a blessing. It’s huge for me, more than anything.

Later on that month we published the Routemap, a beautifully designed visual representation of all of our project summits. Another big moment for us, as it showed everyone; partners and the TRASHMOB alike where we were headed and when, and how it mapped on to our strategic priorities outlined in the Impact Report.

The first project summit is/was the A-TEAM Update and Expansion. Our Ambassador Team, or A-TEAM for short, are the regional representatives of the Trashmob from the Highlands to the Himalaya. In partnership with Endura, Forestry England and Pedal MTB, throughout 2021 we are positioning them as the heart and soul of TFT; the driving force of the organisation. Part of that update and expansion is for the guys to have a leading role in all of our projects, Jo (the teacher from the Wakefield PRU) is now an A-TEAM member, for example, and has a hands on role in the development of the Trashmob Academy project. Our newest member, Dom Barry, who also works for Forestry England as a Cycle Ranger at Dalby Forest, has been working with fellow A-TEAMer John Bellis, developing relationships with Trail Partnerships and FE as part of our partnership.

They’ve all been mad busy throughout the month with the Spring Trail Cleans, and we’re carrying this on in all of our projects. Check out the A-TEAM Charter here, if it’s a bit of you, why not get in touch?

Throughout all of this Trashmobbers across the world have been reporting their finds in the State of Our Trails Report, the first study of its kind that is looking to measure the amount of terrestrial single use pollution, and its impact on the ecosystems we find it in. We’ve had over 250 responses to date, and it’s really cool to know that people are interested in the science behind what we are doing. We’re constantly adapting the SoOT report, making it easier to fill in whilst still capturing the data we need.

The big man Dom Ferris has also recently started his Mres, developing the SoOT report further with the academic backing and support necessary for robust data collection and for the findings to be widely accepted in the academic research community. The work he is doing is inextricably linked to TFT projects, and I’m super excited to see what his data shows. A really encouraging early correlation that we have been able to make is that the more people are involved in a trail clean, the more connected to nature those participants feel as a result of that action. What will be more interesting to find out as more data comes in to strengthen that correlation is what is the optimal group size for increases in nature connection, and how we might be able to apply that to other future projects.

How has the change in restrictions affected the Spring Trail Clean roll-out compared to this time last year?

The main thing that affected us this time around was the uncertainty around lockdown restrictions. public confusion around what we could do etc etc, you all know the drill.

Last year we were able to launch the Selfless Isolation / Purposeful Adventures project in place of the Spring Trail Cleans (STC), and that gave us some great inspiration for a number of other , future projects (stay tuned) whilst laying some groundwork for what we are able to do… That’s what we decided to make the most of then, and that’s what we decided to focus on this time around. We decided that instead of focusing on what we can’t do, how the restrictions have affected us in a negative way, we were going to shift the focus to what we CAN do.

Big Trail

We decided that we didn’t need to be together to work together to protect what we love. People across the world rediscovered their local trails and wild places in a way previously unseen. We realised that whilst we would love to have hundreds of trash hungry Trashmobbers out in the wild getting their hands dirty and having a chin wag after, we could achieve amazing results by working together, but apart.

So we called on the Trashmob to protect their local trails, of course being careful to follow the current government guidelines and stay safe. We called on them to protect the same trails and wild places that have been such an amazing resource for so many of us in what has been a very challenging time…

What else have you learned from previous TFT projects that you’ve applied to the Spring Trail Cleans?

This is my first role in both the MTB and environment worlds, so I’m learning all the time. One thing that sticks out to me, though, is the amount we value our volunteer community. You’re our most treasured asset and, without you we wouldn’t be able to exist, let alone achieve our mission. Therefore, as part of our A-TEAM Update and Expansion, your influence in everything we do is growing and growing.

The A-TEAM Update & Expansion was the first project I was responsible for as Projects Coordinator, and I take a lot of pride in how it’s going. We’ve announced 5 amazing new members from across the UK, and we’re still on the lookout for people who do that little bit more to protect their trails, and the communities that represent them. We’re also increasing their influence in our strategy, partnership and development through a rotational A-TEAM member, who attends meetings with partners where possible and a number of development, planning and strategy discussions.

I guess what I’m trying to say is im constantly learning how important that volunteer community is, and constantly thinking of how the A-TEAM can better represent that community in our day to day.

Photo by Rich Baybutt.

What makes the Spring Trail Cleans so important to what TFT do?

The STC and the Autumn Litter Watch are historically TFT’s biggest, mass participation trash collection events. They’re the times of year when we call upon the global Trashmob to collect as much Single Use Pollution from their trails and wild places as possible, and the projects that move us the closest to that first part of our mission: to remove 75% of litter from our trails and wild places by 2025.

Aside from the obvious goal of picking up as much as possible, because so many people get involved it gives us great opportunities to grow our community, try out new ways of doing things
and see what works for our community.

This STC was a perfect example of that, we launched the DIO (Do It Ourselves) Toolkit. Formulated in close collaboration with the rotational A-TEAMers of the time, we came up with the 9 Rs, the 9 stages of a trail clean action.

Recognise your responsibility
Rally your community
Route – Plan it!
Remove as much as possible
Record what you’ve found
Recycle what you can
Report your findings
Reward yourself for your efforts

You can find a website and beautifully designed PDF that details the 9R’s here. We’ve asked the Trashmob to have a go with this and see how it works out for them. According to our SoOT report data for the month, around 50 people have submitted as part of the STC, about 50% of people are using it successfully. We hope to get this number higher, and develop the toolkit with our volunteer community at its heart so we are able to re launch a streamlined version later on in the year that becomes a 24/7/365 project.

Photo by Sam Needham.

How will the result of the Spring Trails affect what you do going forward?

More people, collecting more SuP, from more locations, providing us with more data for the SoOT report will give us a better evidence base to target our efforts for the rest of the year and beyond.

Part of the motivation for the SoOT report was that in order to achieve our mission, we need to know what’s out there, and where. Activations like the STC provide us with that information in good amount and detail, so in the future we are able to focus our efforts on those places, and those communities that need it the most.

It’s provided us with an amazing number of stories from the community, and some of these stories even have been put on our “seeding list” to be potential A-TEAMers… That’s another reason why the STC is so important to us, it gives a great pool of volunteers to keep an eye on, so that our A-TEAM is as diverse as the trail communities they represent.

Favourite moments?

Trash Free Trails and all of our projects have our volunteer community at the centre. It’s for that reason that my favourite moments are stories from that community.

The first is Matt Kennelly from Wadebridge in Cornwall. He first expressed interest in becoming an A-TEAMer through the Update and Expansion programme, and we’ve had our eye on him. He’s done some amazing work in his community, encouraging businesses in the area big and small to join him on picks and donate to our cause. He’s raised over £500 so far. Incredible work.

We’ve also announced 5 new A-TEAMers that we’ve had our eye on for the year it takes for us to develop that trust and mutual relationships that are so important to us. It fills me with pride every single time we are able to announce a new member.

Any disasters?

Touch wood, not yet.

Although we are doing a “real” event for the first time since Covid hit the first time, so we’ll see what that’s got in store for us. The Spring Trail Cleans “Grand Finale” in partnership with Trek Bristol is on Thursday 29th April in, you guessed it, Bristol. Our Komoot Rubbish Route is here, and we will be setting off around 1100 to grab as much litter as possible from our route, with as many people as we can safely allow to join us at the time. We will also be encouraging people to follow the route after us , later on in the day, to see if its still as clean as we left it. If you’re in the area, come and say hello.

The only potential disaster there is there are some guys from Zedify bringing a rather large cargo bike around the Ashton Court trails… It’s going to be fun to say the least.

You can find out everything you need to know about Trash Free Trails on their website here.

Why not read our big interview with Trash Free Trails’ main man Dom Ferris here.