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Record levels of plastic litter on beaches

Litter on beaches has risen by 82 per cent in the past decade, according to the Marine Conservation Society.

Litter on beaches has risen by 82 per cent in the past decade, according to the Marine Conservation Society.

The society's Beachwatch 2004 survey found an average of one piece of litter every 20in (half a metre) of beach they examined.

Overall the amount of litter dipped from 2,075 items per kilometre surveyed in 2003 to 1,897 items per kilometre, but this was still almost twice as high as 10 years ago. And the survey found more plastic on the shore than at any time since Beachwatch started in 1993.

Plastic litter accounted for almost 60 per cent of all litter found, with an average of 1,106 plastic items per kilometre.

Plastic nets and bags can entangle and drown marine animals, while small plastic pieces can be swallowed by animals such as turtles and whales, which may then starve.

Recent work has shown that large plastic items may eventually break down into microscopic pieces, which are eaten by marine life such as barnacles and lugworms.

A total of 3,093 volunteers cleaned and surveyed 269 beaches around Britain's coast in September last year - the country's biggest annual beach clean and litter survey.

Andrea Crump, of the Marine Conservation Society, said: "This year more beaches were cleaned and surveyed than during any other Beachwatch survey. This is an indication of the high level of public concern about the impacts of litter on our beaches."

A recent government report using Beachwatch data concluded that the amount of beach litter was unacceptable.

The Environment minister Elliot Morley said: "Litter left on the beach or washed up on shore is an eyesore and not only affects our tourist trade, but can have fatal consequences for much of our marine life. So please take your rubbish back home with you and ensure that on your next visit it is only sand that squeezes through your toes and not something else."

The Government's recent Charting Progress report, which assessed the current state of the UK's coast, acknowledges that Beachwatch "provides the only long-term database" for beach litter in the country.

The report stated: "The current levels of beach litter are high," and "marine litter remains a problem for coastal communities and the marine environment".