Steep Holm birds feed plastic to chicks as animals are suffering ‘dreadful injuries’ from litter

PUBLISHED: 08:00 11 December 2017

The heron died despite help from Secret World. (Picture: Richard Scantlebury)

The heron died despite help from Secret World. (Picture: Richard Scantlebury)

Richard Scantlebury

Gulls have fed plastic to their chicks and become trapped in trees on Steep Holm island after getting caught in fishing line.

A nesting gull on Steep Holm (Picture: Andrew Wilson)A nesting gull on Steep Holm (Picture: Andrew Wilson)

Programmes such as Blue Planet have shown how plastic is harming wildlife in oceans around the world – but it is also happening right here in Weston-super-Mare.

The Mercury has launched its Cleaner Coastlines campaign to secure plastic-free coastline status for Weston.

Dave Wallace, a volunteer and trustee at Steep Holm island, said: “The gulls are coming across from the mainland and picking up 
food to disgorge for their chicks.

“But they are also bringing things back like plastic which they think might be food.

The fragment of plastic found inside the whale's stomach. Picture: CSIP-ZSLThe fragment of plastic found inside the whale's stomach. Picture: CSIP-ZSL

“Occasionally we have had to rescue a gull with fishing line wrapped around their legs.

“They land in a tree, it gets tangled in the branches, and they end up hanging upside down.

“We have had about six instances where gulls have managed to get their heads through the little plastic rings which hold four cans of beer together.

“They cannot get it off, and the island does not have a massive amount of open space, so they can get caught in the brambles.”

The pygmy whale found in Weston-super-Mare in 2015. Picture: CSIP-ZSLThe pygmy whale found in Weston-super-Mare in 2015. Picture: CSIP-ZSL

MORE: How your business can help Weston achieve plastic-free coastline status.

Dave said while these events happen ‘occasionally’ it all links to the plastic waste ending up on our beaches and washing up on Steep Holm on a daily basis.

Secret World Wildlife Rescue, in East Huntspill, has reported birds dying because netting has become trapped around their beaks.

Laura Benfield, head of animal care services, said: “We regularly receive wild animals into our care who have suffered dreadful injuries because of discarded litter.”

In 2015, a dead pygmy whale found in Weston had plastic in its stomach. Scientists say there is no evidence the plastic contributed to its death, and it cannot be determined where it picked up the plastic.

Rob Deaville, project manager for The UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, which studied the pygmy whale, said plastic ingestion is not an uncommon find in the dolphins and whales it has examined, though it is also not considered a ‘serious threat’.

The findings do suggest, however, plastic is commonly ingested by marine mammals around the UK.

Search for our Cleaner Coastlines group on Facebook to join our campaign.

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