Declaring war on the danger of sea litter

Friends of the Estuary members handing over Fishing For Litter bags to  local fishermen. From left: Stephen Halstead, Bob Hodgkinson, Paul Sumner, Meg Green (Friends), Alex Cahill, Russell Wignall and Michelle Stannard (Friends) with Billy the dog.
Friends of the Estuary members handing over Fishing For Litter bags to local fishermen. From left: Stephen Halstead, Bob Hodgkinson, Paul Sumner, Meg Green (Friends), Alex Cahill, Russell Wignall and Michelle Stannard (Friends) with Billy the dog.
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Caring volunteers have embarked on a new coastal clean-up campaign which could save lives.

The Friends of the Estuary Coastal Care Group, who have topped 3,000 bags of litter in five years of litter-picking along Lytham’s foreshore, have now also declared war on litter at sea – and the town’s fishermen are giving it their full support.

The Friends have worked closely with the Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority to introduce the new initiative entitled Fishing For Litter, under which local professional and recreational fishermen have been provided with re-usable recycled post sacks, to be kept on boats and enable litter to be recovered from nets and taken to the shore.

Bins have been provided at Seafield Road slipway by Fylde Council, who are also backing the scheme along with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and HM Coastguard.

Helping preserve wildlife is a key objective for the Friends, but as RNLI coxswain Martin Jaggs has pointed out, the potentially damaging effect that carelessly-discarded rubbish at sea can have on shipping can also be life-threatening to humans.

He said: “This is a great idea. Anything which helps clear rubbish at sea and off the shore has to be welcomed.

“We have had problems in the past with cockle bags which can wrap themselves around the propellers of the inshore lifeboat and present a potential delay to getting out on a call which could be life-threatening.

“All credit to the Friends for this initiative.”

The initiative is particularly timely as the local Foulnaze cockle bed is poised to re-open for four days next week and the Friends are already liaising with similar groups on volunteers elsewhere on the North West coast about possibly extending the scheme.

The idea for the Fishing for Litter initiative came about after Friends group member Michelle Stannard found a dogfish trapped in a cockle bag while walking on St Annes beach with her dog.

She said: “When Billy, my Labrador, found a spotted dogfish on St Annes beach, trapped in a cockle bag, I knew we should be doing more.

“We collect the litter that arrives on the shore, but with Fishing for Litter, we now tackle the problem at every stage and Fylde Council deal with what is collected.

“When people are talking about problems and working together to solve them, it is amazing what can be achieved.”

Paul Sumner, a long-time Lytham fisherman, said: “It’s a good idea and has been working well. I haven’t seen too many problems with cockle bags but this is really the ideal way to address the problem of plastic and polythene.

“A lot of that drifts at sea and never reaches the shore and is really potentially damaging to wildlife, with certain species mistaking polythene for jellyfish.”

Jim Green, who founded the Friends of the Estuary in 2008 with his wife Meg, said: “This year has seen the highest number of recorded sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises along the west coast and vast numbers of migratory birds will spend the winter here, so our environment is definitely improving and worth protecting.”

A Fylde Council spokesman said: “Seawater quality is important for residents and vital for the tourism economy as well as local fishermen.

“Fylde Council is working with voluntary groups and other councils to clean up the sea and foreshore and we are pleased to see that fishermen are playing their part.”