Gator helps keep the coast clean

Steve Mitchellin Machinery & Mechanics

A John Deere Gator utility vehicle supplied by dealer Seamus Weldon Groundcare Equipment to Ireland's largest Clean Coasts group is adding extra muscle and pulling power to beach cleaning efforts along a 25-mile stretch of the east Cork coastline.

Pictured with the new John Deere Gator on Ardnahinch beach, Co Cork are (far left) four year old volunteer Odhran Ó Tuama with his father Proinsias, Mayor Cllr Mary Linehan Foley and other Clean Coasts Ballynamona volunteers. Photo credit: Cathal Noonan

The multi award-winning Clean Coasts Ballynamona Group bought the XUV 855M Gator to help step up its ongoing fight against the scourge of marine litter. Group founder Proinsias Ó Tuama says the vehicle is an essential piece of equipment in tackling the tonnes of litter that wash up on their coastline every year.

The Gator has a towing capacity of 680kg and can carry over 450kg of cargo. It is mainly used for helping to pull heavy marine litter such as old, abandoned fishing nets and ropes that wash up on the shore, as well as carrying anything from bags of plastic rubbish to rubber tyres.

Founded in 2015, Clean Coasts Ballynamona is now part of the Sea and Land Trust. It has over 300 regular volunteers that clean and maintain an area representing 1.5 per cent of the total Irish coastline, including two Blue Flag and three Green Coast beaches.

Alongside this effort, the group manages 34 acres of meadowland spread across the county, which is grown to encourage pollinators and wildlife. This is maintained by a John Deere X950R rear discharge/rear collect diesel lawn tractor, also supplied by Weldons. In addition, the group consults with businesses and landowners on biodiversity plans covering a further 600 acres of private and public spaces, so these can be managed more sympathetically to benefit the environment - all free of charge.

"In our first year as a group we lifted 12 tonnes of marine litter on less than a mile of beach at Ballynamona - multiply that up by the entire Irish coastline and you can see the scale of the problem," says Proinsias Ó Tuama, who is a teacher with the Cork Education and Training Board. "We were using a quad bike and trailer before, which were adequate for the job, but the group is very health and safety conscious so we set about looking for a more effective replacement.

"Having had a good experience with the lawn tractor, it made sense to go back to Michael Weldon at the John Deere dealership, so we sold the quad bike and also got Fisheries Local Action Group funding to help pay for the new Gator and a wider trailer. I'm proud to say we have a 100 per cent safety record to date in the volunteer beach cleaning operation, so the Gator's proved to be an ideal solution.

"When you're picking up plastic bottles for example, very often they're full of sea water, sand and other debris, and this can make the collection bags very heavy to carry safely along a long stretch of beach. This is not ideal, particularly for very young children, so it makes sense to use a four-wheel drive vehicle with a load bed and a decent capacity to carry the full bags back to the beach car park for safe disposal.

"Over the years the group's been active, we have brought more than 1000 people beach cleaning voluntarily. We've always tried to be as inclusive as possible of everyone that wishes to help, and we find kids of all ages get hooked from the start. Educating young people about the environment is a key element of our work and effort, so we liaise with local schools and colleges and are very much engaged with the community.

"Pristine coasts are essential. They are not just very important ecosystems, they are also crucial for the local economy. The addition of this new John Deere Gator has really expanded our beach cleaning capabilities, as well as making the job more efficient and safer for our volunteers."