Britain's 'protected' beaches as full of litter as unprotected areas

Britain’s ‘protected’ beaches have just as much litter on them as those in unprotected areas – including plastic, fishing materials and sewage debris

  • Human made litter has been found on beaches in many marine protection areas 
  • Kent, Devon and Cornwall were the worst locations for litter in protected zones 
  • The type of rubbish varies by area but resembles waste on normal beaches 

Protected beaches have the same amount of man-made litter as those not in conservation zones, a study looking at the result of annual beach cleans found.

Researchers from the University of Exeter, Natural England and the Marine Conservation Society found Kent, Devon and Cornwall had the most litter.

The study examined litter in 91 marine conservation zones, 256 special areas of conservation and 89 special protection areas – created for birds.

Plastic was the main form of litter found, and ‘public littering’ the most common identifiable source, according to the research team. 

Protected beaches have the same amount of man-made litter as those not in conservation zones, a study looking at the result of annual beach cleans found

The study examined litter in 91 marine conservation zones, 256 special areas of conservation and 89 special protection areas – created for birds

Different areas had various types of litter – for example fishing materials were the most comment type of rubbish found on beaches in the west country. 

The researchers say this discovery demonstrates the need for ‘locally appropriate management’, rather than a single blanket approach for the whole country.

‘Our work has found that marine protected areas, which often contain sensitive marine habitats and species, are exposed to litter much in the same way as non-protected sites,’ said Dr Sarah Nelms, of the University of Exeter.

‘Marine protected areas have no physical boundaries so, to protect them from any potential impacts of litter, we need to take a whole-system approach and reduce the overall amount of litter being released into the environment. 

‘We also need a co-ordinated approach that considers local nuances, tackling sources of litter that cause specific problems in certain areas,’ Nelms said.

The study used 25 years of beach clean data collected by Marine Conservation Society volunteers.

Dr Hazel Selley, from Natural England, said a clean, healthy and biologically diverse marine environment is valuable for the economy in coastal areas.

She said it is also vital for ‘charismatic wildlife and – once we can travel again – for the mental well-being benefits of spending time by the sea.’

The researchers say this discovery demonstrates the need for ‘locally appropriate management’, rather than a single blanket approach for the whole country.

Different areas had various types of litter – for example fishing materials were the most comment type of rubbish found on beaches in the west country.

‘This research sheds a light on how marine plastic pollution respects no boundaries,’ she added.

‘As we continue to research the impact of plastics on our marine life and move to eliminate avoidable plastic waste, it’s also clear that we all have a role to play keeping our beaches and ocean clean.’

Lauren Eyles, from the Marine Conservation Society, said the types of litter being found were typical of those found on other beaches by volunteers. 

‘What this study highlights is how long-term data from Beachwatch can provide vital evidence in helping to understand the problem,’ Eyles said.

It also revealed ‘that marine protected areas don’t necessarily protect important habitats and species; an even more powerful message to stop litter at source.’

The paper was published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

HOW MUCH RECYCLING ENDS UP IN LANDFILL?

Every day, millions of us drop a plastic bottle or cardboard container into the recycling bin – and we feel we’re doing our bit for the environment.

But what we may not realise is that most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead.

Of 30 billion plastic bottles used by UK households each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled, with half going to landfill, half go to waste.

Most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead. Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter

Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.

This is largely due to plastic wrapping around bottles that are non-recyclable. 

Every year, the UK throws away 2.5 billion ‘paper’ cups, amounting to 5,000 cups a minute. 

Shockingly, less than 0.4 per cent of these are recycled.

Most cups are made from cardboard with a thin layer of plastic. 

This has previously posed issues with recycling but can now be removed. 

Five specialist recycling plants in the UK have the capacity to recycle all the cups used on our high-streets.  

Ensuring the paper cups end up in these plants and are not discarded incorrectly is one of the biggest issues facing the recycling of the paper vessels. 

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