April 8, 2009 / 10:15 AM / 10 years ago

British beach litter piling up

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The amount of litter dumped on beaches across Britain has more than doubled in the last 15 years to its highest ever level, endangering the health of wildlife and humans, according to a survey on Wednesday.

People walk on the beach after a tidal surge in Great Yarmouth, England, November 9, 2007. REUTERS/Darren Staples

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said its beachwatch 2008 annual survey had found an average of 2,195 items of litter per kilometre of beach, a rise of 110 percent since 1994.

Over 5,000 volunteers cleaned and surveyed 374 beaches for its survey, uncovering 385,659 items of litter in the process.

Items such as food packaging and cigarette butts dropped by the public make up more than a third of all litter, with discarded fishing paraphernalia accounting for 13 percent.

The MCS said marine animals and seabirds often ingest litter or accidentally eat plastic, leading to infections or death.

Discarded fishing nets and lines were also a common cause of entanglement for marine wildlife, it added.

Humans were also affected as some plastics can attract toxic chemicals, while filter-feeding animals that ingested plastic particles could see pollutants ultimately entering the human food chain.

Furthermore, council and taxpayers had to pay out millions of pounds to clear up litter from the beaches.

The MCS said it wanted to halve the litter on Britain’s beaches by 2015 and called on the government to take action.

However environment minister Huw Irranca-Davies said it was up to the public not the government.

“Litter goes in our bins, not on our beaches — and ultimately this is an issue of personal responsibility,” he added.

“This is a problem caused by a minority who spoil things for everyone else, and campaigns against this behavior can help us to make this unacceptable to everyone.”

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato

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