I joined one of this years first Big Beach Clean Ups on 25th April – at Wembury Beach near Plymouth, a small idyllic cove reminiscent of so many of our fantastic beaches. The Marine Conservation Society teamed up with Marks & Spencer to run beach clean ups all around the UK – 95 in total – as part of our Forever Fish partnership. More than just a beach clean up, these events are highlighting why beach litter is such a problem – for wildlife, for beach safety and for local councils. Wildlife such as seabirds, turtles and even the fish that we eat, are being found with plastic rubbish in their stomachs, and local councils are struggling to cover the costs of litter removal to keep our beautiful British beaches beautiful and clean for us all to enjoy.
To highlight the problem and promote solutions, MCS, M&S staff and volunteers count all the main items we find on each beach. The beach at Wembury looked very clean at first sight – we all thought we’d be finished in half an hour with a willing band of 30 volunteers keen to get stuck in and make a clean sweep of it. But, once we all started looking in amongst the seaweed on the strandline and the rocks at the back of the beach, we found much more than we had bargained for! Angling line entangled amongst the seaweed, bottles wedged behind rocks, lots of pieces of clear plastic almost invisible to the eye – an hour and a half later there was a pile of 20 bags! My 5 year old son, found a sock and half a tennis ball and was very proud that our bag was one of the heaviest at 13kg!
The best part of these events for me is meeting so many people that really want to make a difference and clean up a stretch of their favourite beach, but are soon fascinated and shocked by what they find - the realisation that what looks like a clean beach harbours a mountain of litter that has been dropped or washed up onto our beaches.
What’s the solution to this constant tide of waste? Changing behaviours, designing ways to reduce plastic packaging and raising awareness of the scale and impact of litter. The findings from the Big Beach Clean Up and other surveys run by MCS identifies the key sources of beach litter so that we can stop it at source.
With the support of Marks & Spencer and the enthusiasm of their staff, this years Big Beach Clean Up saw over 7,000 volunteers take part, clearing over 25 tonnes of rubbish – 25 tonnes that can no longer harm wildlife or blot the seascape.
The problem is not going to be solved easily – but everyone can make a difference and one way is to take part in the next beach litter survey - the biggest ever in the UK – on 19-22nd September - for the MCS Great British Beach Clean. You may be surprised just how much you enjoy donning a pair of gloves and delving amongst the sand, seaweed and pebbles to fill a bag full of rubbish!
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