Beach and parks across Northern Ireland were swamped under a tide of litter dropped by hordes of daytrippers over the weekend, sparking a wave of anger and disgust.
An MLA described the behaviour as “revolting and loutish” and said those who spoiled our beauty spots were “not housetrained”.
It took 16 pick-up truck loads to clear all the rubbish that was abandoned on the North Coast’s spectacular Portstewart Strand after visitors discarded beer tins, metal barbecues and dirty nappies — just metres from the bins.
The picture was the same at other beauty spots including Helen’s Bay in north Down.
Cans and bottles and the remains of picnics littered the beach and park, while mobs of drunken, foul-mouthed yobs who created the mess forced families with young children to flee the area.
“One group littered a whole stretch of sand where they were sitting, then got up and moved onto the grass leaving all their rubbish behind and proceeded to do the same all over again — they even left snotty tissues and a disposable nappy.
“You felt you couldn’t say anything as they were also loud, swearing and aggressive and had been drinking — even though they were with several young children and there wasn’t a litter warden in sight,” one father said.
The litter tsunami on the north coast descended just as staff learned that Portstewart Strand had made it into the world’s top 100 beaches in a CNN vote.
Coleraine Borough Council admitted workers were unable to keep public spaces clean on another five north coast beaches while users were continuing to discard their rubbish.
A spokesman said: “Staff used all available resources to clean up the beaches but the amount of rubbish was so extreme that it proved impossible to maintain clean public spaces while some of the public were adding to the problem.”
Coleraine SDLP MLA John Dallat said people who dumped their rubbish on our beaches were disgusting and added: “It’s just revolting that some people leave things like dirty nappies behind them, they are not housetrained.”
Mr Dallat insisted enforcement was the key as there was a “cultural problem” in Northern Ireland regarding littering.
“We had a party group meeting with DoE minister, Alex Attwood, this morning and he assured us he will be discussing this with all councils,” he said.
National Trust Portstewart Strand manager Toby Edwards said littering was not a major problem on Friday and Saturday, but it was a different matter on Sunday. Staff decided to close the beach at 3.30pm because of concerns about overcrowding and the incoming tide.
During the weekend, council workers filled a pick-up truck with rubbish 16 times. Two members of the public also pitched in to help with the clean-up.
“It’s very frustrating to me as manager — there were beer tins, dirty nappies, barbecues with razor-sharp edges that had been buried in the sand, a lot of them only metres from one of the bin stores,” Mr Edwards said.
“My main message is that I want to thank anyone who acted responsibly out there and I want to say to the rest ‘have a bit of a think about it’.
“It’s their doorstep and our number one resource is our natural beauty.”
Ian Humphreys, chief executive of Tidy Northern Ireland, which has just wound up its Big Spring Clean campaign in conjunction with the Belfast Telegraph, said: “This shows that despite making such progress through 53,000 people carrying out clean-ups, we have still such a long way to go if we are to create a prosperous, clean and green Northern Ireland.
“Now more than ever, we need a joined-up approach to solving this.
“Tens of millions are spent on cleaning up every year but we are also damaging our reputation with tourists and companies that would like to invest here.”
Factfile: the litany of litter
Paper plates and disposable cutlery and cups
Beer and cider cans
Glass and plastic bottles
Clothes and towels