| 6.9°C Belfast

Through our thoughtless acts we are bequeathing a terrible nest egg to the environment

Ten out of 10 for initiative, but would you set up home in a place like this?

These images show the shocking legacy that our filthy ways are leaving in one of Northern Ireland’s most precious wildlife hotspots.

Strangford Lough is Northern Ireland’s first marine protected area — yet so much litter is now polluting its shores that the National Trust estimates that at least 10% of breeding birds are using our waste as nesting material.

More worryingly, Trust wardens have also come across a number of fledglings that have been throttled by the litter making up their nests — plastic rope and fishing wire used in the fishing industry are the worst offenders.

The Trust owns and manages large sections of the lough along with Government and other charities and last year its staff and volunteers collected a staggering 1,000 bags of litter — including some hazardous waste.

It’s not the taxpayer but National Trust members who have to foot the bill for disposing of this hazardous waste, which includes asbestos found fly-tipped along the shore.

“We presume builders are removing it from buildings and they dump it at the shore because they don’t want to pay the costs of disposal,” Trust eduction officer Anna McCoy said.

The damage litter can do to marine wildlife is well documented and Strangford Lough doesn’t escape. For example, the wardens are well aware of a seal sighted swimming in the lough with fishing wire knotted around it.

“It has plastic underneath its neck and head area. They tried to approach it and cut it free but weren’t able to,” Anna said. The Trust says much of the litter appears to be coming from local sources — schoolchildren waiting for buses, day-trippers enjoying a takeaway or fly-tippers avoiding waste charges.

The Belfast Telegraph is highlighting the appaling impact litter is having as part of our Big Spring Clean campaign in partnership with TIDY Northern Ireland, a push to get people to organise clean-ups in their local area.

David Thompson, property manager for Strangford Lough, said: “We live in a beautiful place yet we allow litter to build up because too many people think it is not their responsibility.

“We accept our responsibility to protect Strangford Lough, but we are massively overstretched by the amount of litter on the shores and could not cope if it wasn’t for the help of local volunteers and school children who come out each year to pick up rubbish as part of the Spring Clean week.”

The Spring Clean at Strangford Lough will run from Monday April 19 – Friday May 7. A public day will also be held on May 1 in conjunction with the Seaweed day in Portaferry for members of the public interested in joining a beach clean up. There will also be a public beach clean at Ballymacormick point on the April 10.

For more information, email craig.mccoy@nationaltrust.org.uk or find out about the Belfast Telegraph’s Big Spring Clean at www.tidynorthernireland.org/big-spring-clean

Belfast Telegraph