26th October 2023

Meet Cecil: The VW Camper cleaning up the Cornish coastline

Many of us dream of spending our later years relaxing by the sea, but that’s not quite how retirement has worked out for Cecil, a 1972 Volkswagen T2 Camper Van. Owned by Steve Green, Cecil is still working for a living by helping to clean up waste plastic from the Cornish coastline.

“I found him 23 years ago in Australia,” explains Steve. “He was in a bit of a sorry state as he’d been used as a taxi running between Canberra and Sydney. There was a team of drivers using him all day, every day, so by the time I discovered him he had 850,000km on the clock. The good thing is he came with a full service record, so I knew he’d been looked after even though the engine wasn’t working very well.”

Cecil’s bodywork was in better shape when Steve first got him running, as the dry atmosphere in Canberra had preserved the metal. However, with Cecil back in the UK, mechanic and marine engineer Steve didn’t waste any time putting him to work lifting engines in and out of cars and boats using an A-frame crane mounted to the front of the T2.

Steve says: “He’s getting a bit rusty now as there’s always a wet and salty canoe on his roof. This winter, he’s going to go into the garage for some much-needed love and attention, but it won’t be long before he’s back to work. Luckily, Volkswagen Heritage has kindly supplied some parts to help out and return Cecil to helping with our project. I can’t imagine not using him in the same way as always and can’t really remember life without Cecil as I’ve had him for so long now.”

Steve still clocks up around 5000 miles each year in Cecil, using the VW to get around the narrow Cornish lanes and tow a trailer to where the waste plastic that’s collected can be recycled. This isn’t the only thing Cecil has towed, though, as Steve continues: “He’s pulled our 55-ton boat out of the water when it needed repair work. A proper marine crane is very expensive to hire, so I thought I’d use the winch on Cecil at one end and attach an anchor at the other. There was a lot of smoke from the winch and some creaks from Cecil, but he did the job a few centimetres at a time and hauled the boat 15 metres up the beach.

“Cecil has also proved his worth in winter. Unusually, we had heavy snow in Cornwall a few years ago and I was driving along when I met a Land Rover stuck halfway up a hill. So, I attached a rope to the Land Rover and started to pull it up the snow-covered slope. Then, we came across a Ford Fiesta also stuck trying to get up the hill. Well, I hitched the Fiesta to the Land Rover with another rope and Cecil towed them both to the top and safety.”

Along the way, Cecil has gathered quite a few dents and scratches that he wears as badges of a life well lived. For example, there’s a dent in one side where the T2 rolled down a sand dune, but this VW just keeps on going and now has more than 1.3 million kilometres on the clock. As Steve says: “He’s been round the clock 13 times now and shows no signs of stopping. For the work we do, he’s the perfect vehicle for the job and an ideal example of reuse and recycle.”

The work that Cecil helps Steve with is the Clean Ocean Sailing project, set up by Steve to collect waste plastic from beaches that are otherwise inaccessible by car. Using The Annette, a 55-ton Dutch schooner built in 1908, Steve and volunteers head out for up to three days at a time to sail around the Cornish coast and clean up plastic from remote locations. As well as the larger items such as fishing gear from commercial boats, the crew pick up much smaller pieces of plastic by hand before it can be broken up by the waves and turned into microplastics that enter the food chain. As much of the plastic as possible is recycled, some of it being used to make kayaks that are then used as part of the Clean Ocean Sailing fleet.

Steve says: “We also contact the manufacturers of the plastic fishing gear to ask them to use recyclable materials. Every small change makes a big difference. We can fill a lot of bags with plastic on each trip and each bag can weigh as much as 55kg, which Cecil then lifts onto the shore for recycling. What Cecil and the volunteers do is helping the environment and making a difference to the world.”

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