Littoral Litter

This month has seen the publication of the Marine Conservation Society’s “Beachwatch 2008” report. And depressing reading it makes.

Volunteers surveyed 374 beaches around the UK in September 2008 and logged the types of litter that they found over a sample 100 metre stretch of the beach.

I wonder what we might all imagine to be the most prevalent form of litter that was recorded – stuff washed in from the sea ? Fishing nets, pallets thrown overboard from ships or errant buoys, perhaps ? Not at all – the leading identifiable source of litter was – perhaps you have already guessed – yes, the good old onshore public.

I should point out that identifying the source of beach litter isn’t always that easy and that MCS logged 39.4% of the litter collected as “non-sourced litter”.

But that still left a frightening 37.7% of the litter collected as having originated from the general public – as opposed to 13.8% fishing litter (nets, line, ropes, weights/hooks and buoys), 6.2% sewage-related litter (including tampons and the ever-present cotton bud) and 1.8% shipping litter (e.g. pallets, strapping and oil drums). Fly-tipping (0.9%) and medical litter (0.2%) make up the numbers.

Public litter is the largest source of beach litter across all 4 home countries, accounting for between 32% and 55% of the total litter collected and having an average density of 824 items per kilometre – that means nearly one piece of litter for every metre that you walk along the beach.

It is sad enough that we leave litter on the beach – a place of traditional relaxation and fun. But it is instructive to bear in mind that litter that is dropped by us inland can also be blown to the coast by winds or carried there by rivers. As you might expect, when it is dropped, litter either stays where it is or is propelled somewhere else – and that somewhere else may be the otherwise lovely beach that affords us so much pleasure.

So let’s spread the word and make sure that we and our friends sign up to MCS’s campaign to convince government that an action plan is needed to tackle marine litter. Visit to add your name to the campaign.

Let’s also be less ready to blame all marine litter on sailors and fishermen and more ready to look landward for the main culprits. Perhaps we can then, as MCS hopes to achieve by 2015, enjoy a pleasant walk along the beach where the only human-generated signs that we see are our footprints in the sand.

Leave a Reply