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Meet the nurdle - the latest threat to wildlife off Norfolk’s beaches

Overstrand Beach, where nurdles have been found. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Overstrand Beach, where nurdles have been found. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

Wildlife off Norfolk’s big sky beaches is at risk from the latest pollution scourge - the nurdle.

Where nurdles have been found around Norfolk. Graphic: Rob McVicarWhere nurdles have been found around Norfolk. Graphic: Rob McVicar

Tiny pellets known as nurdles are used by the plastics industry to make new products.

Now a search of hundreds of beaches has found almost three quarters were littered with them.

Conservationists fear the lentil-sized scraps, which soak up marine pollution, can poison wildlife such as birds and fish which eat them.

They carried out a great winter nurdle hunt on 279 beaches, to discover the extent of the problem.

Nurdles found on a beach in Scotland. Picture: Natalie Welden/PA WireNurdles found on a beach in Scotland. Picture: Natalie Welden/PA Wire

While concentrations were low at Titchwell, in north-west Norfolk, higher concentrations were found further around the coastline at Overstrand, Bacton and Eccles.

Emily Kench, from the RSPB, said: “Research has shown that seabirds such as shearwaters ingest a high proportion of plastic, which is very likely to have a negative impact on them.

“It is possible that rare beach nesting birds like the little tern that feed off the north sea along the Norfolk and Suffolk coast may ingest plastic. This may be directly, or indirectly through the prey they consume.”

Fulmars, which nest on Hunstanton’s cliffs, are especially vulnerable. Some 273 pellets were found in one dead bird’s stomach, while studies show up to 95pc of North sea fulmars have ingested plastic. Birds and other creatures may eat the globules because they resemble fish eggs or small crustaceans.

The beach at Titchwell. Picture: Ian Burt.The beach at Titchwell. Picture: Ian Burt.

North Norfolk environmentalist Jennifer Lonsdale is a director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, which campaigns against plastics pollution.

“I was on Blakeney Point the other day and I was shocked how much plastic has washed up there,” she said. “They’re washing up everywhere.

“An estimated 230,000 tonnes of them enterb the European oceans annually. The problem with them is they’re tiny pieces of plastic so they exacerbate piollution.

“Because they’re small, they can be easily consumed so they’re being passed along the food chain. There needs to be something done about them.”
The largest number of nurdles recorded in the survey weekend in early February were found at Widemouth Bay, Cornwall, where 33 volunteers from the Widemouth Task Force collected around 127,500 pellets on a 100m stretch of beach.

The small, light-weight nurdles can escape into the environment throughout their manufacture, transport or use, spilt into rivers and oceans or getting into drains where they are washed out to sea, with billions lost in the UK each year.

A study has also found chemicals which leach from the plastics can contaminate shellfish.

The RSPB and other conservation groups are backing a nurdle free oceans campaign. 
It is calling on industry to reduce the amounts of spilled granules which get washed down drains and into rivers, from where they ultimately find their way into the sea.

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