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 into ever smaller pieces of plastic 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 have previously been recycled through Terracycle but in future are likely to be recycled through our newly formed partnership with the Ocean Recovery Project.

But what has this got to do with boardwalks and bridges and access to nature we hear you ask?

Well, the answer is quite simple and in some respects surprising.

In 2015 our Ranger Team embarked on a new and exciting project; to replace the existing boardwalk and bridges throughout both Lower & Higher Moors with something more enduring than has historically been used. 

During this first Autumn/Winter the Rangers installed a 45m stretch of boardwalk at an area which regularly flooded at Lower Moors  and a further 45m stretch of boardwalk at "The Loop" at Higher Moors.  Boardwalk which previously required a huge amount of maintenance, as it kept rotting out, adorned with chicken wire to prevent users from slipping on it, was replaced with something new and different; and this is where plastic bottles come in. 

The new boardwalk is made from recycled plastic.  This plastic is known as "end-of-life plastic" as it is material that has reached its recycling limit and would ordinarily end up in landfill. 

Each metre of the newly installed recycled plastic boardwalk contains the equivalent of 1000 plastic bottles. That means that just in these first two sections alone the equivalent of 90,000 plastic bottles have been diverted from landfill; and since 2015 we've installed even more!

During 2016 our Ranger Team removed and replaced the old, rotten, wooden bridge and boardwalk leading to the Isles of Scilly Bird Group Hide at Lower Moors; during 2017 they removed and replaced the old rotten wooden bridge and boardwalk leading to the Stephen Sussex Hide at Higher Moors and continued to make improvements to sections of "The Loop"; during 2018 work has continued on sections of the main Higher Moors path as well as sections on "The Loop". 

In total our Ranger Team have removed and replaced 273m of boardwalk and bridges to date (the equivalent of 273,000 plastic bottles!) and the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust has also secured substantial funding, from the Peter O'Sullevan Charitable Trust, to do even more!

At times it has challenged our Teams engineering skills and made them scratch their heads a little, both in terms of the construction and getting materials shipped to the Islands, but the project is extremely worthwhile, for a variety of reasons.

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 to the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and Scilly....

The newly installed recycled plastic boardwalks and bridges are flexible and high impact resistant (tested by Red Class during one of our regular excursions) and they do not rot or degrade in water; they are also unaffected by salt and salt water (which we 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.

The plastic should also retain its structural strength for many years meaning that our small, local charity's resources are less likely to be needed in terms of maintenance and our Ranger Team's attention and valuable funding can be directed elsewhere. 

Since laying the first areas in 2015 the boardwalk has now started to weather and become home to various types of Lichen, as well as providing spaces to hide and shelter for birds, insects and mammals.  This flora and fauna will be allowed to flourish, without too much human interference, as we will no longer need to remove broken planks or replace whole stretches of rotten wood on a regular basis.

Although we now have the funding and materials to replace the remainder of the old wooden boardwalk (there's still approximately 340m left to remove and re-lay) there is always room for improvement! 

We are regularly (particularly through the winter months) stopped by users of our Nature Trails and asked whether similar installations can be carried out at other points where people often get wet feet. 

Sadly, at this moment in time, we do not have any funding to purchase and install boardwalk in these areas, but we are hopeful that with some well placed signage and donation posts we may be able to raise the funds to do so at some point in the future.  

If you would like to help us make this dream a reality then pop some pennies in one of our posts or make a donation on our website!

Don't want to get wet feet? 

This project is part funded by DEFRA through the Isles of Scilly AONB