Roy Beal

‘I’m a sea kayaker, hiker and lover of the outdoors. I grew up on the River Dart in Totnes playing on boats and in kayaks with my younger brother. My parents always owned boats so it was inevitable that I would grow sea legs from a very early age. I even have a pirate ancestor, known as Captain Trapp, from the Shaldon area, so I suppose one could say the sea is in our blood, even though I neglected this until I moved near the sea. I’ve always loved the water but somehow, I managed to spend 30 years of my life without a kayak or a boat, instead spending my spare time either playing the DJ at various rock venues or racing Superkarts; winning a couple of championships at an amateur level.
I’d been gradually making my way across Devon; living in Torbay, Newton Abbot and Exeter at various times, often due to my job as a car and van diagnostic technician, and eventually ending up in Seaton in 2011. Moving to a seaside town made me realise I’d finally found home. I’ve never married or had children but was always aware of a need to be searching for something and it was around my 40th birthday when I realised there was more to life than just working to live – an epiphany as it were. Follow your heart and gut instincts, something I’d been saying for years but not yet followed my own advice. Always having an affinity with nature, I started looking at how I could be closer to it and help it. I began to reduce my reliance of single-use plastic and live in a more planet friendly way. I do my best to exist in a way which uses as little resources as possible, for example, my electricity now comes purely from the sun. I’ve never been one to worry about the latest fashion or trend, but I put a lot of effort into only buying things I need, rather than stuff I want. I started practising the healing art of Reiki, living with more thought to the environment, which eventually made me realise how kayaking and the environment went hand in hand.
This friendly town helped me rekindle a love for the outdoors, the sea in particular, and I started sea kayaking in early 2013. Since then with help from many friends and supporters, I’ve raised around £20,000 for good causes under my Kayaking for Charity banner with various adventures. The first one, paddling from Seaton to Land’s End in 2013, took eight days raising funds for Cancer Research UK, a charity chosen because I’d lost people very close to me. One being my mum; the feeling of helplessness as you watch somebody fade away from this awful disease is something nobody should have to experience and I felt compelled to do something about it. The problem with completing what was then the biggest and bravest thing I had ever done is the feeling of wanting more, so I followed it up in 2016 by kayaking from Tower Bridge, London to Seaton; a 360 mile trip which took 21 days, this time raising money for Cancer Research UK, the RNLI and a local hospice. A book about my adventures is close to being published, chronicling not only the emotions of fear and joy one goes through with such a challenge, but also telling a story about the areas visited along the way and the sights experienced from a kayaker’s perspective.
After spending over 30 years fixing cars full time, I made the decision to go part-time in 2019. I’ve since been involved with voluntary work for local conservation groups in my spare time. Not long after starting kayaking again, I noticed an increasing amount of plastics washing on to our World Heritage Site, the Jurassic Coast. I’ve also been aware of some visitors leaving their litter behind. I learnt from an early age why we should not litter and I struggle to see why others do not understand. My mum Wendy, was a massive influence on my littering views when, as a young boy, we were sat in a traffic jam and witnessed the occupants of the car in front throw their litter out of the window. Mum was straight out of our car, picked up their litter and bravely (this was the 70’s) threw it back in their car. Pointing at the driver she said, in the stern voice only a mother can pull off, “You do NOT litter in my County!”
A few years ago, I had an idea called Just Add Water, Not Plastic, named after my wooden kayak Just Add Water. I felt frustrated with collecting plastic from every beach I visited when I was out on the water, seeing the remains of seabirds entangled in fishing line and occasionally stumbling across dead seals and dolphins. I thought there must be a way to let others know just how bad things are. My timing was perfect—not long after this the country watched Blue Planet 2 with Sir David Attenborough. We watched in horror and sadness as Sir David showed us that this plastic problem was worldwide and far-reaching. It was upsetting in a way I’ve never experienced before, I’m sure I’m not alone, and I knew something had to be done, but how?
Since becoming an Ambassador for the Jurassic Coast Trust in late 2019, I changed the name from Just Add Water, Not Plastic to Clean Jurassic Coast after noticing that I felt alone whilst beach cleaning, “Why isn’t anyone helping me!”. It dawned on me that many others may have felt the same way and the original idea was to turn this into a network of beach cleaning and litter picking volunteers looking after the Jurassic Coast. I have been fortunate these last 12 months or so and met some wonderful people who are now my friends, but more than that they are part of Team Clean Jurassic Coast. Plus, with many other volunteers who kindly gave up their time to help us, we spent most of last year collecting plastic and other litter from the natural world. All we want is a Clean Jurassic Coast.
With some successful fundraising last summer, we recently purchased a boat to help access secluded coastal areas and we’ve turned the group into a Community Interest Company, ‘Clean Jurassic Coast CIC’. We’ll be working to continue our mission to keep the coast free from plastic, as well as offer education to local schools, businesses and the general public. Last year we removed well over 2000kg of plastic from the environment and we are the proud winners of the Litter Free Coast and Sea “Litter Heroes 2020” award. We also work with the Ocean Recovery Project, part of Keep Britain Tidy. Plastics we find in the marine environment get shipped to their depot in Exeter. The plastics are then cleaned and shredded and end up with a new life as a picnic bench or a fence post. One of the great things about this project is the plastics being used wouldn’t normally be recycled. Maybe in the near future, this can be done for ALL plastics.
This summer, I will be undertaking another kayak challenge called Top Down. I’ll be setting off from John O’Groats at the end of May and paddling to Lands’ End to promote awareness of the issues with plastic and litter in the marine environment. This 900 mile trip is expected to take up to two months. I’ll be kayaking on the sea, inland waterways and the 23 mile long Loch Ness as I head along the Caledonian Canal. I’m hoping Nessie likes beach cleaners.
When the current lockdown restrictions ease, I can’t wait to start organising small beach cleans again. It’s great for the soul as well as meeting new, like-minded people. Coming to live in Seaton has certainly changed my life for the better, as well as helping the planet and all life living on it. The sea has become my playground, Mother Nature is my reason for being and, now I’ve at last found where I belong.
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