Words by Abi Scaife
“We've discovered really simple ways that people can make a big difference … all forms of environmental action are important.”
It started as a one-woman crusade against plastic pollution. But today Planet Patrol is all about the wider community.
Lizzie Carr, the founder of Planet Patrol, is an adventurer, paddleboarder and environmental campaigner.
After an unsettling diagnosis, Lizzie travelled to Cornwall to stay with her father. It was there that she discovered paddleboarding - along with the myriad mental and physical health benefits that come with it.
“I just immediately fell in love with it,” Lizzie tells Smiley News. “It wasn't just the physical side of it - it was the really unexpected mental health benefits that it brought me. Because of the combination of the two, I feel it was just what I needed in that moment, in that time in my life, and I just became basically obsessed with it!”
It was after her return to London that Lizzie’s paddleboard obsession turned into a way to help the planet.
“When I was paddleboarding on London's canals … that's the first time my eyes were opened to the scale of what's happening on our waterways in terms of plastic pollution,” explains Lizzie. “And it was horrifying. Some of the sights that I saw - I think the turning point for me was this bird’s nest made up almost entirely of plastic wrappers and straws.”
“It was heartbreaking and the sad thing is I've almost become desensitised to it.”
Armed with her paddle board and a desire to take action, Lizzie founded Planet Patrol. Initially named ‘Plastic Patrol’, Lizzie decided to change the name after a training session resulted in her ingesting contaminated water and becoming unwell, which led her to realise the problem was bigger than just plastic.
“Plastic is a major culprit but actually this isn't really just a fight against single use plastic,” explains Lizzie, passionately. “This is a fight against the single use culture - against consumer waste and overconsumption.”
“I'd been living in environmental sleepwalk for so many years, and my eyes were opened to it through plastic pollution in the water. It was very much a gateway that led me to do a lot more investigating, researching and understanding other problems.”
Essentially, Planet Patrol is a charity dedicated to citizen science, all in the name of the environment. Knowing how much paddle boarding and getting back in touch with nature helped her, Lizzie decided that it was the best way to spread a message of hope.
“I decided that I would paddleboard the length England through our waterways to photograph and record every single piece of plastic I saw,” explains Lizzie. “And in doing so I could show people the scale of the problem from one person's perspective, from one person's journey.
When you're on the water, everything is magnified. You're not just observing it, you are part of it; you're immersed in it. That’s the difference.”
Today, Lizzie uses what she calls ‘the eco-system of campaigning’ to raise awareness of the problems faced by our waterways, and what we can do to tackle them. To make a lasting difference, that change needs to come from governments and political will - and that’s where Planet Patrol comes in.
One of the funnest ways to support Planet Patrol is to join one of their clean ups. In exchange for picking up litter as you traverse your local waterways, you will get an intro to paddleboarding from their expert instructors.
If you don’t have time for a full clean up session, or you simply want to give back in more ways than one (and more power to you!), you can help by downloading their app and getting involved with their Water Watch campaigns.
Throughout Spring and Autumn, choose your waterway and spend just 15 minutes filling out a survey via the app, observing local wildlife and water quality. It’s a great mindfulness tool, as well as a brilliant way to give back!
All the data from these citizen science surveys will help campaign for change from our government, leading to better protections for our waterways and the incredible wildlife that lives there.
If you want to learn more about Planet Patrol and how you can help them, or to sign up for their campaigns, you can do so via their website.
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
The Canal & Rivers Trust. The Rivers Trust are conservation experts who work to create wild, healthy, natural rivers. Support them here.
Every Can Counts. This is a not-for-profit recycling programme, encouraging people to recycle more often, to protect our planet. Support them here.
Rewilding Britain. They aim to tackle the climate emergency and extinction crisis, reconnect people with the natural world and help communities thrive. Find out more here.