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Untidy Britain: the curse of the fish & chip tray

Friday 24 October 2008

Fish and chip lover John Sheard, our countryside commentator, reports on a new campaign to rid the beautiful Yorkshire Dales of one of our growing shames, the discarded, virtually indestructible fish and chip tray

WALKING back over a broad meadow after a day’s fishing on the River Aire, I came across the farmer stooped down and dragging something from the hedgerow bottom near my parked car. Usually, he is a talkative soul, happy to pass the time of day, but this afternoon he seemed to be in a pretty foul mood.

Fish & Chips
The curse of the Fish & Chip tray

I should emphasise I was doing nothing wrong: I have the legal right to fish there and to cross his meadow because my angling association pays him for the fishing rights and takes very strict action indeed – the cancellation of membership, no less – against any angler leaving litter.

So I was unprepared for the scowl he gave me as a climbed over the stile to my car. Then I saw what he was doing: collecting and thrusting into an already bulging sack, those virtually indestructible polystyrene fish-and-chip trays, along with associated litter like Coca-cola cartons.

“Have you seen this disgusting mess,” he demanded angrily, forcing me to defend myself. “I assure you that none of that is my doing,” I replied testily and he straightened up and smiled in apology: “Sorry but I get very cross. You expect to see this in towns these days – but we are miles away from anywhere here.”

And in this, he was quite right. The lane involved is perhaps five miles from Skipton and really only goes to one small village and that does not have a chippy. So who are the cretins who desecrate lovely open countryside with junk which is not only unsightly but can also be dangerous: if it gets into the fields, it could seriously harm livestock which might try to eat it.

There are no prizes for the answer to that question: the UK is getting filthier and filthier, our streets the shame of Europe and millions of our yobbish youngsters (and many adults, too) totally contemptuous of any official pleadings to Keep Britain Tidy. So if we can’t change behaviour, is there any other action that authority can take?

So who are the cretins who desecrate lovely open countryside with junk which is not only unsightly but can also be dangerous: if it gets into the fields, it could seriously harm livestock which might try to eat it

Well, yes there is. A group of concerned Yorkshire Dales residents met in Skipton last week for a unique sort of protest: a fish and chip sit in. They met, not in a chippy, but in a social club and had their chip suppers brought in from the Westmoreland (sic) Street fish and chip restaurant which has joined with local members of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) by banning polystyrene fish and chip trays.

These are a constant litter menace in Skipton and, in particular, in the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. To stop using them, this forward thinking chippy is instead wrapping their delicious suppers in a new material made out of the left-over material from sugar cane.

In the past, this was simply burned, giving off greenhouse gasses. Now it is recycled and – even more important – it is quickly biodegradable, unlike the polystyrene trays which take years to break down and, in doing so, give off dangerous CFC gasses which are said to have caused the hole in the ozone layer in the stratosphere.

Surely, if the Government really wanted to get tough on littering, they could simply ban such polystyrene trays, which these days make the streets of even London look like municipal tips. Better still, the fish and chip owners themselves could follow the example pioneered in Skipton by the Westmoreland Street chippy.

They have reason to be concerned about the future of their industry and not just from the litter threat. There is the soaring price of fish, particularly cod and haddock, caused by decades of over-fishing in the North Sea and, now, there is a new pressure campaign to boycott Iceland’s huge fish catches.

This has nothing to do with the fact that Icelandic banks have gone bust in the credit crunch but because this tiny nation has resumed whaling despite widespread international condemnation. Our picture, showing fish and chips as nice but very, very naughty, comes courtesy of Campaign Whale, which is urging consumers to “stop Iceland’s whale killers.”

As a lifelong lover of fish and chips (with mushy peas, of course) |I would very much like this hearty meal to stay on the national menu. But I would be much more supportive if the chippy owners themselves took voluntary action to ban the bane of our streets and country lanes. Sugar cane trays seem to offer a double recycling opportunity: a real win-win situation. Sweet idea, that.

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