Eco-activist Libby's important message about waste

September 23 2021
Eco-activist Libby's important message about waste

South Bristol local, Libby Bowles, celebrated her birthday by paddling and litter picking her way down the River Wye with friends.

By Lindsey Cole

“The Wye has a plethora of wildlife and is a tourist hotspot. I was interested to see how polluted the river is close to urban and popular areas,” Libby [pictured, right] said.

Libby and her friends found four trolleys, an oven, a wheelie bin and ‘the usual suspects’ related to packaging. One plastic bottle had a letter inside. “It was ‘posted’ in the river by a 5-year-old girl three months earlier. I contacted the number on the letter and we’ve since become pen pals and are going to do a litter picking trip together.”

The Bedminster environmentalist said the worst day was finding a Combined Sewage Outlet. CSOs are emergency discharge points to stop sewage treatment systems from bursting during heavy rainfall.  “In 2019 raw sewage was released into English rivers over 200,000 times, for more than 1.5 million hours. We saw pipes pumping out brown liquid into the Wye. The banks were lined with brown foam and items that go down a loo.”

Most of the 80 mile journey saw the group paddle through idyllic stretches, “with no other humans in sight. Kingfishers and herons swooped beside us. It was heavenly,” she said.

Libby grew up in a village, spending most her time outside. “I am happiest in nature. Over the past 18 months we’ve been reminded how precious it is to be outside, so my friends and I made the most of every moment, from sunrise swan visits to campfires marvelling at the swooping bats.”

The former teacher has worked in conservation since 2004. “I studied the effects of tourism on fish and coral populations. Having seen what we were doing to the ocean I returned to education and have embarked on adventures to draw attention to the importance of taking care of our planet,” she said.

In 2017, Libby was part of an all female team that paddled from Bristol to London litter picking. She then cycled her homemade bamboo bicycle, delivering conservation workshops in eight countries.

Libby is filled with hope for the future. “Young people are determined to make a difference. But we can’t leave it to them. We need to stop creating waste. Avoiding single-use plastic and using refillables is just the beginning. Then we can think about changing who we bank with, what we eat, where we buy clothes, how we travel, even who we have a pension with. All our choices affect the planet. But, it’s best not to think of them all at once. Change one at a time.”

When Libby’s not paddling a river, she works for Sustainable Hive, an education consultancy in Bristol. They’re currently using a recycled plastic boat in the city, helping the harbourmaster to keep the water clean and educating people to understand why it’s critical to look after our waterways. To get involved, please check out To see more of Libby’s work visit