How litter has a truly devastating effect on our wildlife

The RSPCA has received more than 21,600 reports of animals injured or caught in litter over the past five years, new statistics reveal.

The animal welfare charity is urging people to ensure they are taking their litter home with them or disposing of it properly and responsibly.

And they are also urging members of the public to “snip the straps” from used disposable face masks.

Dumped face masks have become a new hazard to wildlife since the pandemic started. A gull in Chelmsford in Essex was recently found with a face mask wrapped tightly around his legs.

Despite the face mask causing swelling to his legs, the bird has now fully recovered but the RSPCA hopes their “snip the straps” message will stop similar incidents taking place.



But there were similar problems during lockdown, with the RSPCA were called to several distressing incidents involving litter.

On April 28, an owl needed help after getting tangled in fishing line in a tree in Lancashire.

The owl’s foot was trapped in fishing litter and he was spotted dangling from a tree in Hoghton near Preston. An RSPCA officer rescued the bird and took him to a nearby vet where they cut the wire free. The owl is now recovering at a local wildlife centre.

Juvenile grey seal Galactica was rescued from Horsey, Norfolk, on May 24 after being spotted on the beach with blue plastic netting tangled tightly around her neck.

She’s now receiving specialist care at RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre where vets removed the netting. She’s the 56th seal to be admitted to the centre with these injuries since 2008.



Two swans were struggling to stay above water after getting tangled together in fishing line. RSPCA rescuers managed to get them to shore at Sturt Pond in Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, on May 27 before untangling them. The weaker swan was almost completely submerged so could have easily drowned.

And a fox cub got his head stuck in a discarded tin can whilst looking for his next meal in Camberwell, London, on May 6. An RSPCA officer was able to catch him and carefully wriggle him free before releasing him back into the wild.

But these incidents are not isolated because over the past five years, the RSPCA’s emergency hotline in England and Wales has received 6,466 calls about animals affected by general litter – like tin cans, plastic bottles and elastic bands.

There have also been 15,183 reports relating to animals injured or caught in angling litter. There have been a further 12,904 reports of animals and birds trapped in netting, which includes netting discarded as rubbish but this also includes sports netting or netting put on bushes or trees to deter birds.

The statistics have been revealed after the Don’t Trash Our Future campaign against littering was launched.

Local community and information platform InYourArea.co.uk and our nationwide network of sister newspapers and websites have teamed up with Clean Up Britain to push for changes.



We’re calling for lasting changes to be made that will ensure littering and those responsible for it are dealt with far more seriously.

Together with our community platform InYourArea and campaign group Clean Up Britain, we’re calling for the fixed penalty notice for anyone caught littering to be increased to £1,000 and for it to be compulsory for local authorities to enforce the law on what is already a criminal offence.

Sign our petition here, and find out more about the campaign here.

Head of the RSPCA’s wildlife team Adam Grogan said: “Our staff are dealing with thousands of incidents every year where animals and birds have been impacted by litter – and they’re the ones that we know of. I’m sure for every animal we’re able to help there are many that go unseen, unreported and may even lose their lives.

“Litter is one of the biggest hazards our wildlife faces today – and it’s something that’s very easy to resolve. That’s why we’re calling on the public to take extra care to clear up after they’ve been out for a walk or enjoyed a picnic in the woods.”

As well as everyday rubbish, the RSPCA also sees many animals arriving into our care with terrible injuries caused by angling litter such as discarded fishing line and plastic netting.

Waterfowl and seals are often admitted to the RSPCA’s four wildlife centres with nasty wounds caused by fishing hooks, line and netting.



Adam added: “Animals who get their heads or necks stuck in litter can suffer severe injuries as they struggle to break free and can even suffocate, while others will slowly grow weaker and weaker as they try to hunt or find food or water.

“Others will get fishing line or netting cutting deep into their skin, affecting circulation and with wounds becoming seriously infected. These hazards can very quickly become a matter of life or death for these animals and action is urgently needed to tackle this problem head-on. It’s up to every one of us to do our bit in the war against litter.”

Adam added: “The majority of anglers do dispose of their litter properly and it is frustrating that those who don’t possibly don’t realise how dangerous it is to animals. Discarded line in particular is a terrible hazard for wildlife, particularly as it can be almost invisible.



“We strongly urge those who enjoy fishing to be extra cautious to make sure nothing is left behind. Most anglers are very responsible when disposing of their litter, but it only takes one careless person to endanger the life of an animal. We ask that all those who enjoy fishing to follow the Angling Trust Take 5 campaign and make use of the recycling scheme to dispose of their waste tackle.

“If members of the public see discarded litter we would encourage them to pick it up safely and put it in the bin, remembering to wash their hands after. Their action could save an animal’s life.”

If you’re concerned about the welfare of an anima, contact the RSPCA’s emergency hotline on 0300 1234 999.

County breakdown for England of calls to RSPCA in five years (2015-2019) related to angling litter and general litter:

CountyAngling litterGeneral litterTotal calls re angling and general litter 2015-2019
Bedfordshire15777234
Berkshire19297289
Bristol6057117
Buckinghamshire27578353
Cambridgeshire358123481
Cheshire435111546
Cornwall31293405
Cumbria21651257
Derbyshire30997406
Devon444197641
Dorset301115416
Durham18191272
East Yorkshire16854222
East Sussex174116290
Essex463227690
Gloucestershire166100266
Greater London7288901618
Greater Manchester663243906
Hampshire566180746
Hertfordshire253143396
Herefordshire502676
Isle of Wight502272
Kent560273833
Lancashire388221609
Leicestershire23190321
Lincolnshire443103546
Merseyside562144706
Norfolk700167867
North Yorkshire304111415
Northamptonshire18070250
Northumberland7431105
Nottinghamshire47695571
Oxfordshire17671247
Rutland9211
Shropshire22440264
Somerset254101355
South Yorkshire30095395
Staffordshire543115658
Suffolk19483277
Surrey214129343
Tyne & Wear234126360
Warwickshire21379292
West Midlands543352895
West Sussex195106301
West Yorkshire329163492
Wiltshire18359242
Worcestershire15160211
TOTAL ENGLAND14,201607420,275
Wales8273841211
Area not listed1558163
TOTAL ENGLAND & WALES15,1836,46621,649

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