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Bill Bryson Litter Pick

Posted on 1st March 2008. No Comment

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Bill Bryson Durham University

Durham University Chancellor Bill Bryson joined student, staff and community volunteers today in a litter pick organised by Student Community Action. Durham’s SCA is amongst one of the biggest university voluntary groups in the country, with around 800 students involved in over 40 projects. This form of student volunteering is invaluable in strengthening relations between the University and local residents, whilst also working to improve the local environment.

Prof. Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University, also took part in the litter pick. He commented that “Students get blamed for a lot of things but they are not to blame for all of the litter. The vast majority of students are entirely responsible [people].”

This morning three groups of volunteers worked for two hours in different areas of Durham. Bill Bryson worked alongside students to remove years of decaying rubbish from undergrowth around Dunelm House and beneath Kingsgate Bridge. After a few minutes of rummaging Bryson proudly emerged from the riverbanks brandishing a large hacksaw which he had uncovered. In total more than 30 bags of rubbish were collected by dozens of volunteers who were rewarded with lunch in the Castle.

Bryson told durham21 of his well-known hatred of litter and fly-tipping and that he was determined to do something about it. Last year he was nominated to become President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which aims to promote the beauty, tranquility and diversity of rural England.

“One of the few things that really upsets me in this country is litter, it’s heartbreaking,” Bill Bryson said. “I don’t have the first idea how to run a national campaign, I have always just sounded off, but this time I am determined to change people’s behaviour.”

Over the next few months Bryson and CPRE will be talking to politicians, policy-makers and educators to get a better understanding of what is needed to effectively attack the problem of litter, especially in the countryside. Their combined aim is to create a powerful national campaign which will make litter a thing of the past in Britain.

On the CPRE website Bryson writes: “Other countries have virtually eliminated litter from their landscapes. There is no reason why we can’t do as much here. We need to aim high.”

Bill Bryson“When you visit a place which is lovely, idyllic, green and leafy, I don’t understand how any one could roll down a window and throw rubbish out.”

durham21 had a chance to catch up with Bill Bryson. When asked about the issue of litter in Durham he said: “Durham is not particularly grubby, it is actually a much loved city and people tend not to drop much litter, but we showed today if we organise for people to go out litter picking, then within two hours you can collect a huge amount of litter.”

“An exercise like the litter pick today is really good for all kinds of reasons. One of them is that it makes the environment clean, and a clean environment tends to be respected. You tend not to find a lot of litter in places that are clean. Palace Green is the perfect example of that.”

“Having all of us out here today sends a message to anyone walking by. They see that someone does actually care. If litter is left, and you see litter there all the time then it seems as if nobody cares. What we did today was demonstrate that people really do care.”

The chancellor of a university is usually a ceremonial, figurehead role with little actual power. Bill Bryson even made a joke of this at his installation congregation, he said: “a chancellor is rather like a bidet. Everybody is pleased to have one, but nobody knows exactly what they’re for.”

In the past it was common for British universities to have royalty, Lords or politicians accommodate the position of chancellor, however, in recent years there has been a move towards chancellors from more modern professions, such as media. The University of York appointed ex-BBC boss Greg Dyke in 2003, and veteran newsreader Anna Ford represents Manchester University.

Bryson’s appointment as chancellor of the University has always been a popular one. He was initially awarded an honourary doctorate degree in Civil Law from the university in 2004 and following the death of Peter Ustinov, Bryson was nominated for the position of chancellor, which he assumed in 2005.

Many other universities have notable chancellors, however I would argue that few care as passionately about their respective university and its local area as Bill Bryson. Whilst his books are primarily known for being irreverent and funny, they also have underlying messages about respect for natural environments.

He was clearly in his element on the litter pick this morning, more than willing to get his hands dirty and help out. He genuinely loves talking to students, and seemed to take great pleasure in talking to durham21 on a short walk around a rather windy Palace Green.

Bill Bryson has also been instrumental in the ‘My Friend Oli‘ campaign which encourages students to consider signing up to the organ donor register.

durham21 Photo Galleries

Durham Litter Pick PhotosBill Bryson Litter Pick Photos

Check out Katy Fitzpatrick‘s photos of the event…


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  • Anonymous said:

    “Students get blamed for a lot of things but they are not to blame for all of the litter. The vast majority of students are entirely responsible.”

    what does this mean? That they are responsible people? or responsible for the litter?

  • Alex said:

    Anon, I agree that the quote is a little misguiding but I can assure you that he meant that students are responsible people.

  • Alex said:

    This is quite an interesting find. In the VC’s fortnightly update he mentions the litter pick and goes on to say:

    “As Bill suggests in his Congregation address, dropping litter should be a capital offence”

    Capital offense (ie. punishable by death)!? That’s a bit extreme. I can see the headlines now, “Durham VC wishes death penalty on litter louts”.

    http://www.dur.ac.uk/vice.chancellor/local/bulletin/archive/?itemno=6242

  • Dan said:

    Haha, I noticed that too. It really is pretty difficult to tell if he’s joking…

  • Hannah said:

    When I graduated, he gave us three bits of advice at the end of the ceremony. I can’t remember what the first two were, but the third one was that if we ever saw someone dropping litter in the street, we should kill them…

  • Alex said:

    …and Bill’s campaign has kicked off this week, with lots of coverage in the national press:
    http://news.google.com/news?ncl=1149549995