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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 April 2007, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Rubbish ruining fragile coastline
Visitor at Kimmeridge Bay
Bottles, syringes and sewage waste were found on Kimmeridge Bay
The Marine Conservation Society says beach litter in the UK has increased by 90% since 1994 with its researchers finding 1,000 items of litter for every mile of beach.

BBC environment correspondent Sarah Mukherjee travels to Dorset to see how one beauty spot is being affected.

The view is breathtaking. Honey-coloured cliffs jutting out into dark turquoise sea. Emerald hills splashed yellow with gorse. And the sweep of the bay itself, the horizon identically coloured to the sea.

Kimmeridge Bay is part of the stunning Purbeck coast, a world heritage site important to fossil hunters and biologists alike.

The ancient sea creature that makes this a palaeontologists' paradise also makes it rich in oil.

Local people say some water from nearby wells used to be undrinkable because of the film of oil floating on the top, and oil so permeates the rocks that occasionally they spontaneously catch fire.

But that environmental danger pales into insignificance when you walk down to the beach.

'Eating rubbish'

Bottles, crates, syringes, sewage waste - every three months local volunteers clear up the beach, but still the rubbish keeps on landing.

Empty shampoo bottles and plastic car parts from the Napoli, a cargo ship that ran aground in nearby Lyme Bay about a month ago, litter the beach as if tossed by some enormous toddler.

"There are parts of this beach that look like a landfill site," says Steve Trewhella, warden with the Marine Conservation Trust.

It's another reflection of a society that doesn't think it has any responsibilities, only rights
Steve Trewhella, Marine Conservation Trust warden

"The big stuff is bad enough, but what's almost worse is the tiny pieces of plastic which are spread across the bay.

"The Americans call them 'nurdles', and they are processed and used to make all sorts of products. But trillions of them have fallen off container ships, and ended up on beaches all over the world.

"They gradually wear away and become smaller and smaller, until even scallops and other shellfish eat them. Eventually, we can end up eating our own rubbish."

'Visitors to blame'

Steve is passionate about the huge diversity of wildlife in the bay, but he admits he finds the litter depressing.

"Rubbish from the sea and rubbish from people who don't care. It's another reflection of a society that doesn't think it has any responsibilities, only rights.

"I have told people to take their rubbish home with them on a number of occasions, and been met with a stream of abuse."

For although plastic from around the world ends up on the beach, the Marine Conservation Society says a third of beach litter is left by the people who come to visit.

We have got to stop treating the sea like a liquid dustbin
Emma Snowden, Marine Conservation Society

We are happy enough to complain about other people's rubbish, it seems, but not so good when it comes to cleaning up after ourselves.

"We have got to stop treating the sea like a liquid dustbin," says Emma Snowden, the anti-litter campaigner for the Marine Conservation Society.

"By all means enjoy our wonderful coastlines but when you leave, bag and bin your rubbish."

And, Emma says, we can take that message back home - and think twice before throwing stuff in the bin.

"You may have noticed little plastic sticks when you're on the beach," she says. "They look like lolly sticks, but in fact they're the plastic bits of cotton wool buds.

"When people flush them down the loo, they don't realise that they escape the sewage filtration systems and go directly into the sea to be washed up on the beach.

"Think about that next time you're having a picnic by the seaside."

Emma and Steve say people have got to stop thinking that leaving litter on our fragile coastline somehow doesn't matter, that the sea will take it somewhere else.

Over the next weeks and months, many of us will contemplate a day by the sea. Perhaps we should make sure that we take home our rubbish along with our golden memories.


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