Plea to clean the seas as National Trust reveals strangest items to wash up on its shores
A can of Russian bug spray, sonar equipment from Texas, thousands of nautical-themed Lego pieces and the remains of an entire 1980s picnic are among the top 20 most unusual items found washed up on National Trust beaches.
The compilation of weird and wonderful objects, which also includes oil-slicked chocolate bars and tiny toy soldiers, shines a spotlight on the issue of marine debris which continues to blight UK beaches despite a recent rise in public awareness.
The National Trust, which looks after 780 miles of coastline, is calling on its staff, volunteers and the public to pitch in with a beach or river clean, as part of a campaign to encourage people to help tackle plastic pollution and reduce their carbon footprint.
While the origins of many of the finds remain a mystery, the Trust has traced several items back to their home countries, which are as far afield as Russia and Canada.
Among those believed to have crossed the globe include a research buoy from Canada, aerosol from Saudi Arabia, a sonar device made in Texas, Russian fly spray and plastic debris covered in goose barnacles that had likely drifted from the Caribbean.
Closer to home, a council trash can was found to have travelled 70 miles along the River Nene from Peterborough to Blakeney Point, a coastal beauty spot in Norfolk famed for its grey seal population. The trash can, dubbed “Pete” by Trust staff, was returned to its home constituency after a social media campaign to find its owner.
February’s storms brought a torrent of marine litter to the Trust’s beaches, and in some cases, revealed hidden relics. At Formby, near Liverpool, photographer Colin Lane found the remains of a picnic from the 1980s that had been unveiled by strong winds. The spread included drink cans, a loaf of bread and a packet of crisps with the contents still intact.
Other odd items to wash up at the Merseyside beach in recent years include piles of vegetables separated by weight by the sea, with heavy carrots at one end of the beach and broccoli florets at the other; a crisp packet with a competition deadline of 30 June 1976 and a Pepsi-Cola bottle believed to be from the fifties.
Phil Dyke, Coastal Specialist at the National Trust, said: “It’s fascinating to hear of the unusual things that land on our beaches, whether they’re relics from history or objects that have travelled thousands of miles.
“But as weird and wonderful as these items are, they tell a more serious story about the permanent nature of plastic, and the constant deluge of marine litter arriving on our shores.
“No one in the UK lives more than 75 miles from the coast, so whether we’re in the city or the country, everything we do impacts on the health of our seas.
“The good news is that there has been a surge in public awareness in recent years – with more people joining beach cleans and swapping from single-use materials. Even small actions like using less packaging and picking up litter can make a difference. We’ve all got a part to play in helping our seas recover.”
Cargo lost at sea accounted for many of the obscure items on the list, including thousands of pieces of nautical-themed Lego that have been washing up on beaches since 1994, when a container carrying millions of pieces fell overboard during stormy weather near Land’s End.
In 2007, National Trust rangers were faced with the biggest beach clean in the charity’s history, following the grounding of the MSC Napoli off the Devon coast.
The disaster – which resulted in 302 tons of fuel and 200 containers being spilt into the water – led to thousands of BMW parts, containers, biscuits, vodka and oil-covered Mars bars strewn across beaches in Devon and Dorset.
In December, rice cakes, plastic buckets and loose apples mysteriously appeared in their hundreds at Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire, later discovered to be the spill from an organic food shipment that had gone overboard on the journey from Dublin to Rotterdam.
There are two pieces of litter for every footstep taken on a UK beach. And the tide does not appear to be stopping, with the Marine Conservation Society reporting an ever-increasing rise in drink containers washed ashore or discarded. Plastic now accounts for over 70% of all litter.
Marine plastics pose a significant threat for wildlife, which can become entangled in rubbish or mistake it for food.
To find a local beach clean, visit: nationaltrust.org.uk/beach-cleans
National Trust’s top 20 most unusual beach finds
- Fly spray from Russia – Orford Ness, Suffolk
- Council bin from Peterborough – Blakeney Point, Norfolk
- Remains of a 1980s picnic – Formby, Merseyside
- Thousands of neon pink detergent bottles – Lizard, Cornwall
- Nautical-themed Lego from a 1994 spill at Land’s End – Whitehaven coast, Cumbria, and beaches in Devon and Cornwall<
- BMW parts, dog biscuits and oil-covered Mars bars from the MSC Napoli grounding – Branscombe Beach, Devon
- 19th, 20th and 21st century shoes – Orford Ness, Suffolk
- Canadian research buoy, still recording temperatures and sending data via satellite – White Park Bay, Northern Ireland
- Sonar equipment from Texas – Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
- Plastic debris covered in goose barnacles, likely from the Caribbean – Brownsea Island, Dorset
- Piles of broccoli and carrots – Formby, Merseyside
- Rice cakes, buckets and loose apples – Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire
- Parts of an old cooking range from 1900’s cottages – Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall
- Aerosol can from Saudi Arabia – Orford Ness, Suffolk
- 1976 “Claws” crisp packet – Formby, Merseyside
- Tiny plastic soldiers – Whitehaven coast, Cumbria
- Rowntree’s Smarties lids from pre 1988, when the confection was sold to Nestle – Whitehaven coast, Cumbria
- Bottle of rum from post-Prohibition America – Formby, Liverpool
- Mercedes C111 1970s bottle opener – Formby, Liverpool
- 26 helium balloons – Orford Ness, Suffolk