This month we’re talking to eco hero Martin Dorey, author, writer, surfer, campervan owner, speaker, and conservationist. We speak mainly about his work as founder of the #2minutebeachclean movement and foundation, in time for the Great British Beach Clean which is this weekend - 18-21 September.
We talk about what got him started, what drives him, his thoughts on how people can get started in sustainability and a look at where we’re all at in the world.
Can you talk us through your work?
The #2minutebeachclean started years ago as a passion project. I spend a lot of time on the beach and had been attending beach cleans, but I wanted to do more. Because of my books, and having been on TV, I had a reasonable social media following so in 2013, when I was getting frustrated after the storms, I thought ‘maybe I could use that social media following to try and do some good’. That was the thinking behind the #2minutebeachclean campaign. The idea is that you do a 2-minute clean and then you post to social media to inspire others. The response has been amazing.
Seven years later we’re a registered charity and we’ve had around 140,000 posts to Instagram from all over the world. A friend suggested we make it even easier for people to do beach cleans and set up stations with litter pickers and bags on the beach, we trialled it in Cornwall in 2014, and we now have 850 around the UK & Ireland. It’s amazing!
We’ve also just opened a charity shop in Bude, we were lucky to be donated a lot of end of line stock from Surfdome, one of our supporters – other brands would have sent it to landfill and they didn’t want to do that so that donated it to us.
We’ve just set up a Guardian Angel scheme for our stations (usually they’re adopted by a group in the community or a local retailer) but we’re hoping this might increase engagement – so we’re trialling the network in Devon and Cornwall. We have 20 passionate volunteers who will look after the stations and go and talk to their local communities and help them do beach cleans.
My work here led me to write my books – No More Plastic, No More Rubbish Excuses, and my kid’s book, Kids Fight Plastic. I donate a percentage of the profits to the foundation and my publisher donates a percentage too.
I have also had the opportunity to speak at some brilliant events including Tedx, the Blue Flag Nations Conference, and Keep Norway Beautiful Conference. I quite like the speaking events but living in Cornwall does make it difficult. The idea is that our Guardian Angels will be trained to do the talks for us.
I’m also still doing my other work – the travelling and writing. I have actually just got back from a trip to France. In 2016 I started a book series ‘Take the Slow Road’ – about slow travel campervan journeys. I’ve published England & Wales, Scotland and now I’m writing the France book. It’s not hard work – it’s fun, and exciting. I hope to inspire others to do the same.
How did this all start for you?
I grew up in Amersham and got into skateboarding in the 70s, I wanted to learn to surf, but also, I never wanted to get on the gravy train. I grew up as part of a broken home in a wealthy part of the country, where all my friends had loads of money. It was all that late 80s working in the city wealth, I just thought I don’t want to be a part of that. I want to follow my heart.
As soon as I learnt to surf that was it. I knew I didn’t want to be motivated by money, or a career particularly. I did go to film school and played the game for a while, living in London for seven years.
Then I moved to Devon, as I was freelance. I have been lucky that I have been able to make a living from writing. My message to anyone reading this – just go and do it. You don’t need stuff. All you need is to be able to feed yourself. My partner shares that passion of camping, surfing and cycling, my children are old enough now that they’re off having their own adventures.
How can people get involved in the #2minutebeachclean?
Go and pick up rubbish – that’s the start of the journey. If you want to do something good for the planet, spend two minutes picking up litter – whether inland, on your street, or on the beach. If you’d like to take a picture and post to social media using the hashtag - #2minutebeachclean and/or #2minutelitterpick. Then you will realise that you are part of this massive global community.
The next step is asking yourself why is this rubbish everywhere? Why are we using so much plastic? Get yourself a reusable coffee cup. Buy some beeswax wraps. That’s your #2minutesolution Stop the stuff from being on the streets in the first place.
What drives you?
Wanting to have a nice life, have fun, and not wanting to see injustice. I love the beach and I don’t want to see it wrecked. I hate the way that people have no regard for the countryside and nature. I hate the way that our politicians and some people just don’t care about the fact we cannot carry on as we are. It’s about driving change, making a difference and leaving this place nicer than it was than when we got here.
What do you enjoy?
The satisfaction of seeing stuff done. Because the #2minutebeachclean is a social media idea if you like, opening the charity shop was a milestone – a real solid thing. This is us engaging with the public, and maybe we are making a difference. If 130,000 beach cleans on Instagram equals 2 kilos each, so 260 tons of waste, it’s worth it. I love the travelling and writing part of my life too – it’s a really privileged position and I enjoy it.
In 2019 you were awarded a Prime Minister's Points of Light award that recognises outstanding UK volunteers - those making a change in their community. How did you feel about it?
It was nice to be recognised, but those recognising are hypocrites. I would rather they pay nurses fairly; I don’t want them to congratulate me on cleaning beaches – I want them to ban single use plastics. It’s such a diversion from what needs to be happening, which is action.
How do you switch off?
Hanging out with Lizzy (my partner) and going surfing. Seeing my kids. Eating nice food, drinking wine. Enjoying the countryside. Cycling and kayaking. I’m lucky I can do it all where I live.
What advice would you give to people looking to start living more sustainably – where should they begin?
Just do it. Get started, it takes time. Nobody is perfect. The whole of society is not in your favour if you want to be green. Start with doing a bit of shopping in your local zero waste shop. It’s taken me years to get solar panels on the house, and I’m still far from perfect. I drive a van; I like food that comes in unrecyclable packaging from time to time. But you have to start somewhere. Pick up some litter, get yourself a keep cup, if you have packed lunches take cutlery from home. You just need to change at your pace. We don’t need perfect people; we need lots and lots of people doing lots of stuff.
Who inspires you?
Chris Hines, Founder of Surfers against Sewage – I met him in the early 90s. I interviewed him, he was ranting on a clifftop about sewage pollution and I thought he has this passion and he is following through and doing something about it – he’s brilliant. I still talk to him now and until a few years ago he was actually my mentor.
Books / blogs you’d recommend?
Natalie Fee - How to save the world for free. She is a committed environmentalist and a really nice writer. She runs Refill in Bristol. Jen Gale’s, Sustainable(ish) blog and book is worth checking out too.
What’s next for you?
More travelling. Working to establish the foundation further so I can take more of a figurehead role. Just enjoying life really. I’ll be starting on the Spain and Portugal books before the year is out.
What are you hopes for the future, for humanity?
It would be good if we learnt to live with less. It’s living with so much that has caused the problems we see now. I’d like to see a social democracy take over politically that cares more about people than profit.
The optimism at the start of lockdown was that we were having the chance to slow down, appreciate nature, let the earth recover and I’d really like to see that continue, and businesses cut down on their carbon footprint, and start to think sustainably.
I don’t care if the airlines go out of businesses – they’re part of the problem. But we need to make electric cars more affordable and love our bicycles again. We need to start from the ground up.
The oil industry has lost so much money because of transport not being a thing that they will start pushing plastic – so pushing PPE, clean food packaged in plastic – that’s the worry that they won’t learn. Hopefully we will learn and slow down.
Where you can find Martin Dorey
His personal website
Buy Martin’s books
Watch on YouTube