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Litter problem at England’s protected coasts - University of Exeter

Beaches in or near England’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have the same levels of litter as those in unprotected areas, new research shows.

The study, by the University of Exeter, Natural England and the Marine Conservation Society, found “no difference” in the amount of anthropogenic (caused by humans) litter present inside and outside MPAs.

These MPAs include the 91 Marine Conservation Zones established from 2009 onwards, 256 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and 89 Special Protection Areas (for birds).

Plastic was the main form of litter found, and “public littering” the most common identifiable source.

The study, which used data from Marine Conservation Society beach cleans, found MPAs in the South East (Kent) and South West (Cornwall and Devon) had the highest levels of shore-based litter.

Regional differences in the items found – such as fishing materials in the South West and debris from sewage around large rivers – demonstrate the need for “locally appropriate management”, the researchers say.

"Our work has found that MPAs, 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.

“MPAs 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.