Pictures show devastating impact plastic has on Forth wildlife

A baby seal surrounded by washed up plastic. Picture: Maggie Sheddan.
A baby seal surrounded by washed up plastic. Picture: Maggie Sheddan.
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FROM a baby seal surrounded by plastic waste to a gannet tangled up in a coil of twine, these pictures show the devastating impact humans can wreak on their local wildlife.

But this is what animals in the Firth of Forth are faced with on a daily basis, with conservation chiefs naming plastic as “by far the worst offender” when it comes to pollution on our beaches.

Plastics washed up on shore near the Scottish Seabird Centre. Picture: Andrew Grieveson.

Plastics washed up on shore near the Scottish Seabird Centre. Picture: Andrew Grieveson.

Tourists flock to the Scottish Seabird Centre from all over to admire its vast array of birds – but it’s not just the animals which are catching their eye.

New pictures show just what problems plastic is causing, whether it is being mistaken for food or trapping birds in a tangle. It comes despite continuous efforts from staff to minimise its impact, with regular litter picks all around the North Berwick venue.

Items causing problems cover everything from plastic bottles to tiny “nurdle” pellets, with chief executive Tom Brock calling the material a “major threat” to marine wildlife.

It comes as the Scottish Government announced plans to ban the sale of plastic-stemmed cotton buds, with Mr Brock saying he welcomed the proposals.

Staff at the Scottish Seabird Centre carry out regular litter picks. Picture: Andrew Grieveson.

Staff at the Scottish Seabird Centre carry out regular litter picks. Picture: Andrew Grieveson.

He said: “We have got beautiful beaches out here and it’s such a shame when you see it littered with plastic. Birds mistake plastic for food and that can end up being fatal.

“One of the great things that’s happened is the decrease in use of plastic bags – that has decreased that type of litter. It would be great if we can change people’s behaviour and legislate to make those changes with other types of plastic.”

One local species particularly affected is that of the fulmar, a small seabird similar to the gull in appearance, because it often mistakes plastic for food.

Mr Brock said there were a number of factors which affect seabird populations but that plastic was a definite contender.

People helping out at the North Berwick Big Beach Clean in October 2017. Picture: contributed

People helping out at the North Berwick Big Beach Clean in October 2017. Picture: contributed

“We know that individuals are being killed by plastic pollution but seabirds are being affected by lots of different things. There is no doubt that plastic will be one of the things that is having an impact.”

In addition to the general beach cleans carried out by the Seabird team every week, they also have two bigger beach cleans every year. These are done with East Lothian Countryside Rangers Service, North Berwick in Bloom and Surfers Against Sewage.

It is a key way of minimising plastic’s impact, with Maggie Sheddan, the centre’s senior Bass Rock landing guide, saying she often finds birds tangled in the substance.

She said: “This is incredibly sad to see and should not be happening. By reducing our use of plastic and how we dispose of it, we can all help to make a difference.”

For now, the centre is pushing ahead with its ongoing education programme for school pupils across the region. It is hoped this will help instil a cultural change, encouraging future generations to change their buying habits linked to plastics and non-recyclable items.

Mr Brock added: “It is about changing behaviour. The more young people can understand the impact on our wildlife and our natural environment and how important it is to look after it then there is really hope for the future. We have got wonderful wildlife and it is important that we don’t threaten it and we behave more responsibly.”