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How these children’s fight against the curse of discarded rubbish earned them a £1,000 reward

Not only have they picked up countless bags of rubbish between them, but last year’s three winners of our Junior Litter Champion award have helped restore pride in the places where they live, sending a powerful message that the scourge of thoughtless littering and fly-tipping has to stop.

They were chosen from hundreds of entries by an expert panel headed by TV presenter and eco-campaigner Julia Bradbury and won a £1,000 prize and a holiday for their whole family. Here, they tell us their stories to inspire more young litter champions.


For Umar Habib-Khan it’s the highlight of his weekend. As an enthusiastic member of a street cleaning initiative set up by The Abrahamic Foundation close to his home in Sandwell near Birmingham, the nine-year-old has been picking up litter since the age of five.

Off he trots, rubbish bag and litter picker in hand, with a band of volunteers including his siblings and parents, to target deprived areas of Birmingham where litter is at its worst.

‘Sometimes, it’s a bit like a treasure hunt,’ he says. ‘We find all sorts of things as well as crisp packets, chocolate wrappers and loads of plastic. I like picking up litter because it’s good for the environment. I hate litter because it causes pollution and it makes everything dirty. It makes me realise that it’s bad to drop litter. We have fun — oh, and we get sweets as a reward at the end, too.’

Nine-year-old cleanliness champion Umar Habib-Khan pictured in Smethwick, Birmingham. He was awarded Junior Litter Champion of the Great British Spring Clean competition

Umar’s father Usman adds: ‘We’ve caused quite a buzz in the area and some of the older people will come out of their homes when they see us. They all like to have a chat with Umar. They’ve told us this kind of community spirit reminds them of wartime when everyone pulled together and helped each other out.’

Mutaheer Ali, who organises the Abrahamic Foundation litter picks, nominated Umar as Junior Litter Champion.

‘His vibrant energy as well as his good behaviour sets an example to not only Umar’s younger siblings but to the rest of the community who engage much more positively with us as a result,’ he says.


Aged just three, Joseph Bradley, from Oldbury near Birmingham, was one of the youngest litter-picking volunteers to join last year’s Great British Spring Clean.

His father, Patrick, nominated Joe, now five, for the Junior Litter Champion prize saying: ‘Joe is passionate about the environment and since he got his hands on his very own kid-sized “graptor” picker (which has a dinosaur head) he has been regularly involved with organised litter picks at the local Lightwoods Park.

Five-year-old litter hero Joseph Bradley runs through a field in Oldbury, West Midlands. He is one of the winners of the Great British Spring Clean competition

Five-year-old litter hero Joseph Bradley runs through a field in Oldbury, West Midlands. He is one of the winners of the Great British Spring Clean competition

‘He just loves collecting up rubbish with us — lots of other children want to have a go with his litter picker, but he’s always too busy using it!’

The family are keen members of a local group of volunteers called Litterwatch and Joe regularly joins them. ‘We tend to find a lot of non-recyclable wet wipes and plastic bottles,’ says Patrick, ‘and millions of cigarette butts — Joe really hates them because he knows smoking is silly and he says smokers are really bad to throw their stinky, plastic cigarette butts on the floor. They are also tricky to pick up!’

Joe makes a point of taking his litter picker when he accompanies his mother, Ann-Marie on the weekly food shop because he likes to keep the canal behind the supermarket clear of litter.


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‘It makes me angry when people come to feed the geese then leave the empty bread bags there — sometimes swans swim there, and I’m worried they will eat the rubbish by mistake,’ he says.

Joe also takes his litter picker on the walk to and from school every day. ‘I do it because I love to clean the environment, and I like it that other people are starting to copy me.

‘We saw a girl picking up litter on the way to school today because she’d seen me doing it, and my friend Gracie asked me where I got my litter pick from so she can get one,’ he says, before adding, with a cheeky grin: ‘Do you think I might get famous because of this prize? I don’t know if I’ll be able to sign autographs if I’m busy picking up litter.’


Passionate about protecting the ocean from plastic waste, Betsy-May Houghton rarely leaves her home in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, without taking a litter picker with her.

The 14-year-old sets off with the family dog Jet and returns with bags upon bags of rubbish she has found; rubbish she then sorts into the correct bins for recycling.

‘I worry that if I don’t do it, birds will get trapped or someone’s dog will eat the rubbish and become ill,’ she says. ‘There’s already so much plastic in the ocean, I can’t bear the thought of any more being washed out to sea.’

Her proud mum Lydia says that Betsy-May has always been interested in environmental issues.

Child winner of the Great British Spring clean competition Betsy-May Houghton pictured with bin bag and picker in hand in Wiltshire

Child winner of the Great British Spring clean competition Betsy-May Houghton pictured with bin bag and picker in hand in Wiltshire

‘Her efforts have made a huge difference to our local area. I think people are less inclined to drop litter in the streets around us because they look so tidy and Betsy-May and Jet are so quick to pounce if they do.’

But Betsy-May’s litter-picking inspiration is her granny, Gloria Houghton, who lives in Leeds and is also deeply committed to clearing up other people’s mess. ‘Whenever we go to Leeds, granny will take me out litter picking,’ says Betsy-May.

‘There’s a lot more rubbish there, so you can fill a bag really quickly and it doesn’t take long to make a big difference.’

Betsy-May, Umar and Joe all won £1,000 plus a holiday at Tom’s Eco Lodges on the Isle of Wight.

Betsy-May impressed the judges with her commitment and also a video she’d made about solving the ocean’s plastic problem.

‘I really enjoy doing this, so I didn’t believe my mum when she told me I’d won the prize — she had to keep convincing me,’ says Betsy-May.

‘We stayed in the Eco Lodges on the Isle of Wight last October. It was fabulous! We had a log cabin which had a wood-fired hot tub. There were chickens roaming everywhere and we were invited to help ourselves to any eggs we found and cook them up for breakfast.’

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