The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) publishes the Beachwatch 2003 Report today, with results of the UK's biggest annual beach clean and litter survey carried out in September 2003. The survey recorded the highest density of litter on beaches surveyed since the first Beachwatch eleven years ago. On average, one item was recorded for every 48 cm of beach surveyed. Litter density has risen by 29% compared to 2002 results, and by 99% compared to Beachwatch 1994. Litter from beach visitors, fishing debris and plastic litter were also at a record high and sewage related debris had increased for the first time in five years. These levels indicate that current legislation is having little or no effect on reducing aquatic litter, and that public attitudes still need to be changed.

On 21st-22nd September 2003, over 2,600 volunteers helped to clean and survey a total of 135 km of UK coastline on 244 beaches. "This year more litter was found for every metre of beach surveyed than during any other Beachwatch survey," says Andrea Crump, MCS Litter Projects Co-ordinator.

Beach visitors were found to be the biggest source of beach litter surveyed contributing 36.7 % of all litter found, followed by fishing debris (14. 6%), sewage related debris (7.8%) and shipping litter (2.0%).

"Tourists will choose a beach because of its beautiful scenery and clean sands, then spoil the beach for other users by leaving their rubbish behind." says Andrea Crump, "Every single piece of rubbish has an owner, and every single person can make a difference by making sure they take their rubbish with them when they leave the beach".

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality, the Rt Hon Alun Michael MP said in support of Beachwatch: "The Government commends the work of the thousands of volunteers that take part in the Beachwatch event every year. The MCS Beachwatch 2003 Report shows that beaches suffer just as much from litter as other public spaces up and down the country. The Government strongly believes in taking the necessary action to address the issue of littering because we recognise the continuum between low-level environmental crimes, more serious anti social behaviour offences and the impact that this has on our lives. I am committed to improving the quality of our local environments and I will continue to introduce new powers and initiatives to improve our public spaces."

To tackle the major sources of beach litter, MCS has urged government to introduce more effective laws to prevent littering by the public, reduce unnecessary plastic packaging and introduce a Plastic Bag Tax, which has been successfully introduced in Ireland.

Plastic items accounted for over 50% of the litter found, including 5,831 plastic bags, the equivalent of 43 plastic bags for every kilometre of coastline surveyed. Every year thousands of animals are thought to die as a result of entanglement or ingestion of litter.

"The public needs to understand the link between creating litter, and the consequences of their actions" continues Andrea Crump. "Plastic bags and balloons are eaten by marine turtles, which mistake them for jellyfish; which can result in a turtle starving to death, or drowning". The average number of balloons found for every kilometre of beach surveyed increased from 6.5 per km in 2002 to 8.7 per km in 2003, a 34% increase.

Sewage related debris increased for the first time in 5 years, and cotton bud sticks accounted for 83 % of the sewage related debris recorded. In total 17,981 cotton bud sticks were found (56 % of these were found on one Scottish beach highlighting that certain beaches are still badly affected by sewage related debris), indicating that the message not to flush cotton bud sticks, or anything plastic, down the toilet is not getting across to the public.

The disposal of waste from ships also still continues, but all ports must now provide reception facilities and vessels are inspected to check if they have the quantity of waste onboard that they are likely to have generated.

Litter densities varied between regions across the UK. England recorded the highest density of beach litter, with 2,655 items per kilometre surveyed, followed by Wales (2455.2 items/km), Scotland (1,535.5 items/km), Channel Islands (1,125 items/km), and Northern Ireland (807 items/km). Within England, the South West region recorded the highest litter levels (3,362 items/km), but this was slightly lower than last year's figure (3,955 items/km). Wales recorded a 46% increase in litter density compared with Beachwatch 2002 (2,455 items/km in 2003). However, there was some good news - the Channel Islands and Northern Ireland both recorded a decrease in beach litter levels compared to 2002.

Underwater clean ups and surveys were also conducted. These surveys found an average of 36 items per square metre surveyed, and nearly a third of this was attributed to fishing debris.

Beachwatch is the flagship event of the Marine Conservation Society's Adopt-a-Beach project, which encourages volunteers to clean and survey their local beach on a regular basis to identify the sources of litter. Adopt-a-Beach is funded by The Crown Estate and Defra's Environmental Action Fund. The data from Beachwatch surveys also contributes to the International Coastal Cleanup, involving 100 countries worldwide, organised by the Ocean Conservancy in the United States.

MCS would like to thank all of the volunteers that participated in Beachwatch 2003, without whose hard work and dedication the Beachwatch survey would not be possible.