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Mass beach clean yields tidy results, but charity warns against ‘false dawn’

A scene from a Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean event in September. Picture: MCS

A scene from a Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean event in September. Picture: MCS

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Volunteers picked up almost 10,000 items and filled 63 bin bags on the beaches of Norfolk and Waveney over a mass four-day clean up.

A scene from a Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean event in September. Picture: MCSA scene from a Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean event in September. Picture: MCS

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said their Great British Beach Clean, which took place September 14-17, was the biggest mass beach clean and survey event the UK has ever witnessed.

Across the country, volunteer cleaners picked up an average of 600 items of litter for every 100-metre stretch of beach covered. But although the numbers of volunteers involved and clean-ups rose on the previous year’s event, the amount of litter collected actually dropped.

Lizzie Prior, MCS beach and river clean-up project officer, said although a drop in litter sounds like good news the opposite was actually true.

She said: “In 2017 our volunteers picked up an average of 717 items of litter for every 100 metres they cleaned and surveyed, this year that figure dropped by 16pc.”

A scene from a Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean event in September. Picture: MCSA scene from a Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean event in September. Picture: MCS

Ms Prior said the results were a “false dawn” because they did not mean the amount of litter washing up on beaches was decreasing.

She said: “UK governments must certainly not think the crisis is over and slow down or shelve any much-needed litter legislation.

“Litter levels fluctuate year on year and for the last decade have risen by over 15pc.

“The Great British Beach Clean is just a snapshot of the UK litter story and must be seen in the context of the broader trending picture. There’s more litter in our seas than there has ever been.”

A scene from a Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean event in September. Picture: MCSA scene from a Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean event in September. Picture: MCS

The Great British Beach Clean included 14 events around the Norfolk coast, and 388 volunteers took part. There were also three beach cleans in Waveney, including one at the Denes in Southwold which involved 110 people - by far the region’s largest.

On average, for every 100 metres of the coastline cleaned there were nearly 189 plastic or polystyrene pieces, 38 plastic caps or lids, 21 cotton bud sticks, 16 drinks bottles and cans, 12 wet wipes, five plastic bags and three plastic or polystyrene cups.

The Eastern Daily Press and its sister publications have this year also got behind the push to be keep our beaches beautiful with its Big Coast Clean Up campaign.

Ms Prior said public awareness of the damage beach litter does was on the rise. She said: “Social media feeds are filled with people’s pictures of what they find at the coast, on rivers and at sea. Finally, beach cleaning is cool and mainstream. So, we may have found less litter this year because so many more people are cleaning beaches whenever and wherever they can.”

A scene from a Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean event in September. Picture: MCSA scene from a Marine Conservation Society Great British Beach Clean event in September. Picture: MCS

Beach cleans: How our region fared

Great British Beach Clean events took place right around the Norfolk coast, from Old Hunstanton to Gorleston.

The biggest clean-up was held at Great Yarmouth (South), where 52 people picked up 537 pieces of rubbish over a 100 metre stretch of beach.

Other large events took place at Holme next the Sea and Holme-next-the-Sea east, where 49 people got involved in each event. A clean-up at Titchwell Marsh attracted 46 people who picked up 1286 items, filling nine bin bags, and another clean-up at Snettisham drew 44 people.

As well as the huge clean-up in Southwold, other events in Waveney included one at Lowestoft (north), which saw 134 pieces of litter picked up, and another at Kessinghamd, where 248 pieces were found.

Ms Prior said: “We’ve been blown away by the number of people who are cleaning the UK’s beaches either at organised events like the Great British Beach Clean or just at random trips to the beach.”

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