Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 13:14 UK

Beach rubbish problem 'piling up'

By Alex Bushill
BBC News


Beach blitz: How much rubbish can be found in 10 minutes?

Record amounts of litter are being left on the UK's beaches, a survey suggests. The Marine Conservation Society is calling for a co-ordinated strategy to tackle the problem.

Emma Snowden and John Hepburn are trying to turn the tide... of litter. They are among a dedicated few who give up their free time to clean up our coast.

They are needed. There may be record numbers of volunteers coming out, more than 5,000 this year, but there is now a record amount of litter on UK shores.

Surrounded by plastic bags and cotton buds on Mount Batten Beach in Devon, Ms Snowden was sifting out rubbish that had come in with the morning tide.

As part of the Marine Conservation Society, she has helped to survey the UK's coastline to establish the extent of the problem.

Bubble wrap

"The results speak for themselves, litter on the UK beaches continues to rise and this problem is not going to disappear overnight," she says.

Her comments are interrupted by by another discovery. "Look, another cotton bud," John cries.

The beach is a beautiful spot and looking out to sea, you can understand why so many people visit to enjoy the view. But on closer inspection all you can view among the bladder wrack is bubble wrap.

The problem is not just on land, as fisherman Roger Knowell explains. He has been trawling off west Cornwall for 30 years.

He says in the last 10 years he has never seen so much rubbish in his catch.

This is confirmed as he hauls his nets onto the boat.

Roger Knowell
We've found discarded fishing net, oil drums, paint cans, plastic boxes and occasionally we get a fridge or a TV
Roger Knowell

What he would like to see is a healthy catch of John Dory or sea bass but instead he has to pick through his nets by hand.

Instead of sea bream, polythene. With typical Cornish understatement, he said: "Well, today, we've caught as many plastic bags as we have fish - so not so good today."

It sounds like he has not had a good day for a while.

He adds: "We've found discarded fishing net, oil drums, paint cans, plastic boxes and occasionally we get a fridge or a TV.

"It affects 10% of our fishing effort, we lose 10% of our fishing time. I have a business to run, people to pay. It's quite substantial."

This is why he is part of a new voluntary scheme to collect rubbish out at sea.

In the three years it has been running, in Scotland alone 150 tonnes have been fished out.

Marine life

For John Mouat, who has been running the pilot, it is now time to roll it out nationwide, starting in the south west.

"One of the keys it to provide a network, so whatever harbour the fishermen are landing their catch the scheme is the same," he says.

"It makes it easy to participate and actually changes practice within the industry, so this becomes second nature that everything that comes ashore isn't thrown back into the sea."

But the litter on our beaches is as much caused the public as it is by fishermen.

The latest research suggests that nearly 40% of that rubbish comes from the public, just a tenth from the fishing industry. The result is potentially lethal to marine life.

Ms Snowden explains: "Unfortunately when net gets lost at sea it continues to fish, everything from basking sharks, seal, and dolphins. It's very wide ranging."

Up to 250 dead dolphins are washed up every year across Britain - the majority on the Cornish coast.

Each one is a visible reminder of how rubbish is affecting the coastline. The good news is levels of waste recycling have been rising and supermarkets are redoubling efforts to reduce the number of plastic bags used.

But while more is being done to reduce the amount we litter - it seems too little is being done to control where it washes up.

Print Sponsor

Scots beaches 'worst for waste'
10 Apr 08 |  Scotland

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