They call her Action Nan for her tireless environmental campaigning. But for 72-year-old Pat Smith, it’s as much about the small gestures as the grand ones – saying no to a plastic straw with your drink or remembering to take a bag for life to the supermarket.
“We all need to get off our backsides and do something,” she says with characteristic firmness. “If every single one of us does one thing, it all adds up to big change.”
As the owner with husband David of Bosinver Farm Cottages, near St Austell, Pat was already an ardent environmentalist, and an early adopter of eco-technology such as solar panels and electric car charging points.
In 2017, Pat saw the film A Plastic Ocean and was deeply moved by the problem her generation had helped to create. Around 88 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since 1948; it’s estimated that 90% is used only once before being discarded. It will take hundreds of years to break down, and even then, will continue to exist in microscopic fragments, leaking toxic chemicals into the oceans and causing a danger to wildlife which could mistake it for food.
Not one to sit around, Pat did some research. “I felt a responsibility to my children and grandchildren to do something about it, to protect our living planet” she explains. “I thought: what’s the simplest thing I can target that people won’t miss if they don’t have it, and that might get people thinking about other things? I reasoned that the straw was the easiest thing for people to say ‘no, thank you’.”
Pat quickly discovered that 2.2 billion plastic straws were thrown away every year, having been used for an average of just 20 minutes; they will all outlive everyone reading these words. In summer 2017, Pat and a dedicated team of volunteers launched Final Straw Cornwall, a two-pronged attack focussing on hospitality businesses and their customers to try and eradicate plastic straws from the county, thus raising awareness of the damage being done by single-use plastics.
The campaign took off, and sister groups formed up and down the country. The ultimate triumph came in October 2020, when the government enforced a ban on selling not only plastic straws, but also drink stirrers and cotton buds. “I hope the 600 businesses we persuaded to give up plastic straws played their part in that decision,” says Pat, proudly.
Although covid 19 has seen many businesses compelled to take a backward step towards disposable utensils, Pat is hopeful this will be reversed as restrictions lift. The Final Straw lives on, meanwhile, as a campaign against other forms of persistent pollution: cigarette butts, for example, and an unexpected new enemy: single-use PPE, in particular face masks.
In 2018, Pat made a New Year’s Resolution to carry out 52 beach cleans and litter picks – one per week, from Coverack on the Lizard Peninsula to Blackpool Sands in Devon. She was often joined by volunteers, and having achieved her goal, made it her mission to set up local beach-cleaning groups. A founder member of the Charlestown Chums, she is looking forward to resuming regular sorties, in particular during Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean (May 28 to June 13) as she is now one of their Litter Ambassadors. “A lot of the rubbish I pick up consists of everyday items used by all of us,” she says. “We should all take responsibility for picking up litter, as well as ensuring we don’t drop it in the first place.”
Visitors to Bosinver will notice the efforts made to run a sustainable business. Solar panels adorn many of the cottage roofs and heating often involves ground- or air-source technologies; light bulbs are all LED and white goods are chosen for water and electrical efficiency. Pat and her team religiously recycle as much as possible, and make it easy for guests to compost food waste.
Guests are encouraged to explore the area on foot or via public transport, with 50 suggestions of car-free days out and plenty of walks to enjoy from the doorstep. Bosinver will even pay the taxi fare for those who choose to travel here by train.
“Our visitor surveys tell us families do notice and appreciate our efforts to reduce the environmental impact of our business, and the way we farm organically and maintain wildlife habitats,” says Pat. “Hopefully they will be inspired to implement some of those practices in their own homes and gardens after their holidays here at Bosinver!
Follow Pat on Facebook @FinalStrawCornwall or visit www.finalstrawcornwall.co.uk
You can also reach Pat on 01726 72128 or at firstname.lastname@example.org