A small part of the big beach cleaning picture

For the last two years we’ve organised beach cleans as part of the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean, the biggest beach clean and survey in the UK.

While we’ve only taken art for the last two years, the GBBC and Beachwatch programmes has been running for over 25 years.  In this time volunteers have collected information which has helped make some of the most significant impacts on beach litter ever – the plastic bag charge, microplastics banned in personal care products, better wet wipe labelling, and massive support for a tax on ‘on the go’ plastic single use items.

The GBBC 2018 Report, shows that across the UK on average, a staggering 600 items of litter on every 100 metres of beach that were cleaned and surveyed.  While that’s still a huge amount it’s actually 16% down on last year.

Beach cleaning finds at Whitehaven North Shore

Finding rope nearly as tall as our beach cleaners at Whitehaven’s North Shore

On a chilly and wet September day we did our Great British Beach Clean at North Shore in Whitehaven and found 269 pieces of litter in our 100 metre survey area.  Most of the litter we found was plastic (over 47%), and 64% of the litter we found came from the public – things like bottles, fast food wrappers and cigarette butts.  This is much more than the national figure of 28%.

So, what can you do to help us keep beaches clean?  You can join us on Wednesday 12th December when we’ll be back beach cleaning at North Shore (we bring everything you need, just come along and join in).  We’ve also written an article with a few ideas before to get you started reducing how much plastic you use.  A Deposit Return System (DRS) is under development in Scotland and has been promised for England.  The MCS says the Government now has a golden opportunity to bring in the best system possible – one that will include all bottles and cans and all sizes.  A consultation on a DRS in England is expected to be launched any day now.  Keep your eye on the MCS website and social media feeds to see how you comment on the proposals.

 

 

Not so fantastic microplastic

Microplastics on St Bees beach

On a visit to St Bees Beach after the recent storms we were shocked by the amount of plastic we found.  There was the usual waste of rope, bags, fishing line, food wrappers, bottles, cotton bud sticks, balloon strings.  But it was the micro plastics which were really evident on this occasion.

This is possibly because it was a neap tide, meaning that even though it was had been stormy, the tide wasn’t coming as far up the beach as it sometimes does.  This meant that the smallest of marine debris, which is usually washed up to the back of the beach and lost in amongst the shingle, was instead being left on the sand for all to see.

You might be asking what are micro plastics?  The U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration defines microplastics as less than 5mm in diameter.  However, this can include primary microplastics (which are much smaller and usually come from plastic used in exfoliating face and body products or industrial processes) and secondary microplastics (which are made when larger plastic products break down into smaller pieces).  Micro plastics are known to harm marine life, which mistake them for food, and can be consumed by humans too via seafood, tap water and other food.

Most of the microplastics we found were nurdles.  Nurdles are small plastic pellets about the size of a lentil. Countless billion are used each year to make nearly all our plastic products but many end up washing up on our shores.  Spills and mishandling by industry can mean nurdles end up at sea.  Unlike large pieces of plastic marine litter, nurdles are so small that they go largely unnoticed.

A handful of plastic nurdles

Nurdles found at St Bees beach

We’d like to know more about how bad this problem is so we’ll be buying some sieves, getting on our hands and knees and doing a Nurdle Hunt at St Bees around the next neap tide.  Details are still being finalised but we will be asking for volunteers to come and help soon.

In the meantime how can you help reduce this problem?  You can avoid microplastics by:

  • ensuring any products you buy don’t contain them (microplastics are banned in the UK but are still used in other countries)
  • recycle plastic products where possible
  • recycling anything you do need to throw away
  • not flushing anything other than the three P’s (pee, poo and paper) down the toilet
  • joining a beach clean and help clean up our beaches – we have regular beach cleans at Whitehaven and St Bees, see our events page for all the info you need

Whitehaven’s Great British Beach Clean

Once again this autumn we organised a Great British Beach Clean at Whitehaven.  Now in it’s 25th year the Great British Beach Clean, coordinated by the Marine Conservation Society, is the biggest beach clean and survey in the UK.

The information volunteers have collected over the last 25 years has helped make some of the most significant impacts on beach litter ever – the plastic bag charge, microplastics banned in personal care products, better wet wipe labelling, and massive support for a tax on ‘on the go’ plastic single use items.

Trying to get used to the survey forms always takes a little while  so perhaps it was good that the beach at Whitehaven was surprisingly clean.  However, a few steps along the beach and looking amongst the rocks and we soon found enough litter to keep us going.  In total the four of us collected 269 pieces of litter in just one hour.  There was rope, cigarette butts, plastic cups, paper, plastic, glass, nails, lolly sticks and straws.  Joseph even collected some rope that was nearly as tall as he is!

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The rope’s nearly as tall as Joseph!

 

The full report from the beach clean can be found her 180915 Whitehaven North Shore – Survey 15 Sep 2018.  It shows that most of the litter we collected was plastic or polystyrene with paper and cardboard a close second.  Most of this was rubbish we were collecting and disposing of before it reached the sea.  We had surprisingly little sanitary waste which is different from when we beach clean at St Bees.

As always a massive thank you to our dedicated volunteers who gave up their Saturday morning and came out to beach clean in some grey and windy weather!

Heritage Open Days Fog Signal Station walk

*** This event is now FULLY BOOKED please contact sophie.badrick@nationaltrust.org.uk to be added to the reserve list ***

This year we’re again taking part in Heritage Open Days and opening up the St Bees Head Fog Signal Station for a select few people.

Heritage Open Days is England’s largest festival of history and culture, bringing together over 2,500 organisations, 5,000 events and 40,000 volunteers. Every year in September, places across the country throw open their doors to celebrate their heritage, community and history. It’s your chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences – and it’s all free.

On Sunday 16th September we’re organising an 8 mile guided walk from Whitehaven to St Bees Head as part of Heritage Open Days.  As we walk past the site of the old Haig mining museum along the coast to the Fog Signal Station you’ll see and hear about the industrial history that has shaped this coastline and continues to do so today. We’ll stop for a break at St Bees Head Fog Signal Station with a chance to look inside this normally closed building which perches precipitously on St Bees Head. Then we’ll return along the coast to Whitehaven.  It’s a great chance to hear a little bit more about this stunning stretch of Heritage Coast.  Places are limited so please contact our project officer Sophie if you’d like to book a place or find out more information sophie.badrick@nationaltrust.org.uk

160526 St Bees Fog Horn Station (c) Sophie Badrick (19)

An unfortunate discovery

While beach cleaning last week our Project Officer discovered a porpoise washed up on Whitehaven’s North Shore.  While the creature had clearly been dead for some time, so there was no question that it could be a live stranding, we still reported the individual to the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP).  They confirmed the individual as a female harbour porpoise due to the spade shaped teeth (dolphins have needle shaped teeth).  Due to the level of decomposition there was no way to determine cause of death.

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The UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) has been running since 1990 and is funded by Defra and the Devolved Administrations. They coordinate the investigation of all whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans), marine turtles and basking sharks that strand around the UK coastline.   As well as documenting each individual stranding, they also retrieve a proportion for investigation at post-mortem to allow them to establish a cause of death.  Strandings that undergo post-mortem examination provide valuable information on causes of death, disease, contaminants, reproductive patterns, diet and also useful pointers to the general health of the populations living in the seas around our coasts.  This provides useful baseline data to help detect outbreaks of disease or unusual increases in mortality. The CSIP depends on the publics help in the reporting of strandings around the UK.

More information about the CSIP and what to do if you find a stranded animal can be found on their website or by reading their strandings leaflet which they have kindly let us share CSIP_leaflet

Wildflower workshop

Next week we have another workshop in our Nature Recorders series. We’ll be joining forces with Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre once again to deliver this workshop on wildflower and plant identification. Come along and learn how to identify wildflowers using a key, books, and hand lens. The workshop is free but booking is essential, contact sophie.badrick@nationaltrust.org.uk

Who lives in a house like this?

Along the Colourful Coast when the tide is out and the lower shore is exposed you can often find strange looking honeycomb like structures forming hummocks or sheets across the rocks and sand.

These fragile structures are the home of the aptly named honeycomb worm (or Sabellaria alveolata if you want to get technical).  The reefs are formed from the closely packed sandy tubes constructed by these colonial worms to live in.  The reef structures resemble honeycomb (hence the name honeycomb worm) and can extend for tens of metres across and up to a metre deep, constructed of thousands or even millions of individual tubes.  The worms are very specific in their requirements for forming reefs – as well as needing a hard substrate to attach to, they also need a supply of sand for tube-building so they are found on shores where there is sufficient water movement to bring a sand supply from nearby.  Their tubes are made by gluing sand and shell fragments together with mucus.  The worms head protrudes from the tubes to feed when the tide covers the reefs and then retreat into the protection of the tube as the tide goes out.  The reefs also provide habitats for a wide range of other animals including anemones, snails, shore crabs and seaweeds.

Honeycomb worm reefs are just one of the unique aspects of the Colourful Coastline, and one of the reasons why the area was designated as a Marine Conservation Zone, or MCZ.  The Cumbria Coast MCZ stretches for approximately 27 km along the coast of Cumbria, extending from south of Whitehaven, around the cliffs at St Bees Head, to the mouth of the Ravenglass Estuary.  More information about the MCZ can be found on the Natural England website.

What do you know about pollinators?

Can you spare a few minutes to help Cumbria’s pollinators?

The Cumbria Local Nature Partnership is hoping to secure Lottery funding that will help pollinating insects on the west coast of Cumbria, by creating and connecting suitable habitats.

To inform the application, it is important that we have more information about what people in Cumbria know about pollinating insects and the sorts of activities you might like to get involved with.

Please complete this very short questionnaire to help wildlife thrive on the Cumbrian coastline.

https://wildlifetrusts.wufoo.eu/forms/coastlines-the-cumbria-coast-pollinator-project

It should take just a couple of minutes. Thank you for your help!