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Green Living

Record levels of litter found dumped on UK beaches

Increase in flytipping and shipping rubbish poses a serious hazard to seabirds

A record amount of litter is fouling Britain's beaches, according to a national survey today.

The Marine Conservation Society’s annual Beachwatch survey found double the amount of plastic, rope, sweet wrappers and other debris than its first check 15 years ago.

An army of volunteers spotted an average of 2,195 pieces of litter per kilometre last September compared with 1,045 in 1994.

Pieces of plastic were the objects most often found, followed by polystyrene, plastic rope, plastic caps and sweet wrappers.

The MCS said that it could not be sure where 40 per cent of the rubbish came from, but blamed members of the public for 37 per cent of the total. Fishing boats were responsible for 13 per cent.

Sanitary towels and cotton buds flushed down toilets and carried out in sewage accounted for 6 per cent of the total, followed by shipping and fly-tipping.

A record 5,129 volunteers walked 374 beaches in September last year, collecting 385,000 separate items of rubbish from 176km of Britain’s coastline, 9 per cent of the total.

Wales had most litter (2,634 items per km), followed by England (2,242), Scotland (1,505) and Northern Ireland (484).

MCS demanded urgent action from Whitehall to prevent the growing tide of litter damaging marine life and complained that there was no strategy in place to tackle the problem.

More than 170 species of marine wildlife including seabirds, turtles and whales can ingest litter, resulting in starvation, poisoning and fatal stomach blockages, the MCS, Britain’s biggest marine charity, said.

"Whether you live near the coast or miles inland, we are all connected to the sea. This is a man-made problem. Every piece of litter has an owner and we all need to take responsibility to not drop litter in the first place," said Emma Snowden, MCS litter project coordinator.

"MCS wants to see zero waste on Britain’s beaches and our first goal is to halve the litter on Britain’s beaches by 2015, but in order to achieve this we need to appoint lead agencies with the specific responsibility to stop marine litter and develop a marine action plan now."

Keep Britain Tidy spokesman Dickie Felton complained that litter louts had turned the shoreline into "dumping grounds." "It is shocking that our coastline is blighted by such high levels of litter but sadly the state of our beaches mirrors the state of our towns and cities too. There is no excuse for dropping litter anywhere, it’s disgusting."

The Council for the Protection of Rural England joined calls for Government action. "These figures confirm what we suspect: that people are continuing to thoughtlessly drop litter and the Government should act on managing litter as a matter of urgency. It should meet the MCS to draw up a strategy," said Samantha Harding, manager for CPRE’s Stop the Drop campaign.