Are Britain’s animals eating plastics? - The Mammal Society

Wood mouse by Samuel Hood
Wood mouse by Samuel Hood

Programmes such as the BBC’s Blue Planet and Hugh’s War on Plastic, have drawn attention to the threat plastics pose to sea-life. However, little is known about the impacts on Britain’s land-based species, such as hedgehogs, rabbits and voles.

A team of researchers from the Mammal Society have set out to assess the exposure of wild mammals to waste plastics across Britain. By analysing the droppings of some of our most widespread species, including squirrels, mice, rats and shrews, they aim to uncover the extent to which these plastics are eaten, and understand the health threats posed by different types of plastic, through both ingestion and entanglement.

In the UK, food packaging accounts for 67% of plastic waste, which is far higher than that of many other EU countries. Reports suggest that contamination by microplastic (tiny particles of plastic) in terrestrial habitats may be as much as 30 times higher than in marine habitats, yet most attention has focused on sea-life. Studies conducted so far on terrestrial ecosystems have mostly focused on worms, soils and chickens and, worryingly, these results have suggested that microplastics are present in high quantities.

By focusing on small mammals, researchers will be able to assess the health of ecosystems as a whole. If small mammals, which are vital prey for a wide variety of species such as foxes, weasels, barn owls and kestrels, are ingesting microplastics, this would have a knock-on impact throughout the food chain. By studying mice, rats, shrews, rabbits, hedgehogs, squirrels and voles the Mammal Society hopes to better understand the current situation and raise awareness of the effects of microplastics on Britain’s terrestrial wildlife.

The Mammal Society was our featured charity last year, we ran an article about this project in March. See all articles at

Posted on: 18 January 2021

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