Greenhouse Pioneer: Natalie Fee – City to Sea


Natalie Fee is a seriously busy bee. Her credentials include being an author, TV presenter, environmental campaigner and founder ofCity to Sea, a not-for-profit organisation tackling marine plastic pollution at a city-wide level and the one behind the city’s free tap water campaign,Refill Bristol.

Somehow she managed to find time to talk to us about what drove her to set up City to Sea,what she has achieved so far and where she plans to go next..

Sum up City to Sea for us – what’s your mission?

To protect our rivers and seas; we want to see sticks, mud, sand and seaweed strewn along our waterways and coastlines, not plastic!

What motivates you?

The plight of the Albatross in the Pacific islands distressed me, but it was the plastic strewn along the riverbanks of my home city of Bristol that gave me the impetus to do something about it! I find my inspiration and sense of wellbeing from nature, so it makes sense to me to dedicate my work to protecting, restoring and celebrating it!

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 14.11.38

The above photo shows the amount of plastic waste that Natalie single handedly collected in just two minutes, at low tide in the Avon Gorge.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

I would say having my own TV show, setting up City to Sea as a CIC, being a single-mum and making time for a healthy relationship, exercise and meditation : all at the same time.

What are the challenges you face?

All of the above, plus the way the UK Government drags its heels when it comes to implementing legislation that would make marine plastic pollution of UK waters a thing of the past. The USA recently banned microbeads. Scotland is soon to be implementing a deposit scheme (which our European counterparts have done successfully for years). Change in itself is challenging – particularly when it comes to behaviour and government policies!

What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?

Both of our campaigns, Refill Bristol and Switch the Stick are fizzing – but it’s the people working on them which awes me. We have an all female board of three directors and operate under the guidance of a brilliantly active steering group of eight; marine scientists, marine lawyers, heads of council services, business leaders and industry experts. It’s amazing to have people of such calibre supporting our mission.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 14.11.57Where do you want to take City to Seanext?

Refill Bristol, our free tapwater campaign, needs to spread outside of the city centre. We’ve got over170 Refill Stations but we’d like to see those reaching out into Greater Bristol – and eventually nationwide. We’re partnering with Bristol Water too this year and have a fantastic summer of public events planned to help Bristolians remember to take their refillable bottle out with them!
Switch the Stick, our cotton bud campaign that will encourage people to start using paper-stem buds instead of plastic ones is going to be exciting. We’ve got some great names and big ideas and ultimately we believe it’s a winnable cause – if Q-tips are made of paper in the US why can’t they all be made from paper here too? That success alone would remove the millions of plastic cotton bud stems polluting our waterways and flushing out to sea every week.

Natalie collecting cotton bud sticks on the banks of the River Avon. . Over 1000 plastic stems picked up on a 250m stretch of riverbank.

Natalie collecting cotton bud sticks on the banks of the River Avon. Over 1000 plastic stems were picked up on this 250m stretch of riverbank.

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

You can take your refillable bottle out with you for starters and pledge to stop buying single-use bottled water! You can Switch the Stick and start buying paper-stem alternatives (only available at health food stores at the moment – something we’re working on!) and you could say ‘no straw please’ when ordering your drink. There’s more you can do at a government pressure level too – I invite you to sign up to our mailing list on our website if you’re keen to do more!

If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?

Hire the best people I know to write an ‘Ocean Positive Charter’ (to include adopting a circular economy model, national deposit scheme and a ban on microbeads amongst other things) in the morning, make them all a plastic-packaging free lunch, then implement it in the afternoon.

What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across, and inspired you?

Probably The Wave: Bristol. I know it’s not yet built, but the vision, dedication and passion of the people behind it inspires me, as does the whole ethos of the project. Bringing the community together, outdoors, playing around on great waves, whilst connecting to nature and learning how to protect it has to be a winning formula. I can’t wait to see it happen.

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?

No but I can recommend a life-changing loaf of bread. You can buy all the ingredients loose from Scoopaway in Bristol (if you’re reading this further afield do an internet search for your nearest ‘loose wholefoods’ shop) and it’s the most delicious, packaging-free, healthy and incredible bread I’ve ever eaten. I call it ‘Incredibread’. Look up ‘life changing loaf of bread’ in a search engine for the recipe.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

This week it’s been two old Katie Melua CD’s I found when clearing out a drawer. Usually it’s Radio Six.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

The Desiderata, which I first encountered hanging on the wall of my best friend’s downstairs loo when I was growing up. I’ve recently hung it up in mine.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 14.31.40Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero?

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Fish Fight, War on Waste – brilliant TV that changed things for the better, for good.

Follow Natalie Fee and City To Sea on Twitter to stay updated on the fantastic work they do.