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Five pieces of litter for every step on Northern Ireland's dirty beaches

By Adrian Rutherford

Northern Ireland's beaches are so dirty that five bits of litter exist for every step someone takes, a survey has revealed.

An average of 528 items of rubbish are present for every 100m of our coasts.

Shockingly, this figure still compares favourably against the rest of the UK and Ireland's coastline. The report, by environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, is an analysis of surveys on 10 beaches from Runkerry Strand in the north west to Rostrevor in the south east.

Staff and volunteers have covered a total of 56 kilometres over 14 survey rounds since September 2012 to collect the data and remove the litter.

Chris Allen from Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said: "This new analysis looks at all the data we have collected since 2012.

"We've found tremendous variation between the surveys, so taking them all together allows us to get the best picture of the amount and composition of litter washing up on our beaches."

Over the four years of the study, there was no major change in the overall litter count, although the number of plastic bags and sanitary waste items have both reduced.

Mr Allen added: "That we can have over 500 bits of litter per 100m and still be cleaner than other places is pretty worrying.

"This stuff damages boats, kills marine life and could cause contamination of fish."

The report, released today, also praises the work of volunteers in cleaning beaches around the country. Some 4,187 bags of rubbish have been lifted by volunteers taking part in the project. Residents in the fishing village of Ardglass, Co Down, are working hard to control litter.

Kevin Quigley of the NI Fishery Harbour Authority said: "We know litter is a problem. The tides wash it up here from all over the place.

"Our staff have pride in this beautiful harbour village and so can be seen regularly with local and other volunteers undertaking beach cleans."

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful recently reported that councils here spent £43m cleaning up litter in 2015/16.

A series of initiatives are taking place to tackle the problem, including council-led strategies to reduce beach litter.

Fishing vessels have even begun to bring litter caught in their nets back to shore for disposal.

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