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More than 600 calls made to RSPCA in Wales to report animals affected by litter

Hedgehogs, deer and foxes are the mammals most likely to be impacted

Credit: RSPCA Cymru

The RSPCA in Wales has received more than 600 reports about animals found severely injured, trapped, mutilated, choked or even dead from carelessly discarded litter over the past four years.

The shocking new data – released today by the charity – also reveals that the figure rises to 12,817 across England and Wales (614 specifically in Wales). In addition on average there were 13 reports per day made across England and Wales last year during the peak months of May, June, July and August, when there is a particular litter hazard for animals.

RSPCA Cymru  is urging people to help “create a better world for every animal” by getting involved in Keep Wales Tidy’s Spring Clean Cymru (from 15-31 March). Individuals, groups or schools can pledge their support – and say how many bags of litter they intend to pick up – with more than 400,000 collected in total last year.  

Distressing incidents dealt with by the RSPCA include a hedgehog entangled in old barbed wire, a fox cub with litter caught round his neck and a Great Black Backed Gull whose leg became almost completely detached due to old fishing line cutting in.

On January 31 a goose was found with a can stuck on its mouth in Aberdare.

The Canadian cross greylag goose was first spotted in a small pond behind the Lakeside area, near the Dare River, with the can wedged at the top of the beak and in its mouth, so the goose was unable to eat or drink.

Luckily RSPCA Animal Rescue Officer Paula Milton, was able to find the goose and using her net she managed to catch him successfully so she could release him from the can.

She checked him over and thankfully the can had only been on him for a maximum of 48 hours so hadn’t done too much damage so she was able to let him go straight away. He swam off and started to drink straight away.

Amongst mammals, litter-related reports to the RSPCA were highest for foxes, hedgehogs and deer, while among wild birds, swans, pigeons and gulls bore the greatest brunt of discarded rubbish. The RSPCA even received reports of family pets such as cats and dogs being affected by litter.

RSPCA anti-litter campaigns manager Carrie Stones said: “Our rescuers deal with thousands of avoidable incidents every year where animals have been impacted by litter – including hundreds in Wales.

“Old drinks cans and bottles, plastic items and even disposable vapes are just some of the items that pose a danger to our wildlife – including hedgehogs, deer and foxes. Animals can ingest the litter or become entangled, leading to injuries, mutilations and even death.

“Sadly, for every animal we’re able to help there are probably many others that go unseen, unreported and may even lose their lives.

“But the public can help us protect animals, and avoid these incidents happening in the first place.

“Spring is an ideal time to go on a litter-pick because it falls before the breeding season when young animals such as fox cubs are at risk of getting into trouble, while litter in hedges will be more visible to pickers before the vegetation really starts growing. That’s why we’re calling on the public to get involved in the Spring Clean Cymru to help remove litter that may endanger animals.

“But it’s also really easy for the public to help at all times of the year. When people are out and about, we urge them to hold on to their litter until there is an opportunity to dispose of it safely and responsibly – or recycle where appropriate. As we all strive to create a better world for every animal, this could save an animal’s life.“

As well as everyday rubbish, the RSPCA also sees many animals arriving into its care with terrible injuries caused by angling litter such as discarded fishing line, hooks and plastic netting. Around 40% of all litter-related calls to the RSPCA last year were about animals that had specifically become caught in fishing litter.

Carrie continued: “Old fishing line can cut deep into the flesh of water birds like swans, geese and ducks, affecting circulation and causing wounds to become seriously infected. We even see birds that have swallowed barbed fishing hooks. These hazards can very quickly become a matter of life or death for them and action is urgently needed to tackle this problem head-on. It’s up to every one of us to do our bit in the war against litter.”

The RSPCA says a majority of anglers are careful when fishing – but a small number are letting the community down by not disposing of their waste properly and leaving animals in danger.

Carrie added: “The majority of anglers do dispose of their litter properly and it is frustrating that those who don’t possibly don’t realise how dangerous it is to animals. Discarded line in particular is a terrible hazard for wildlife, particularly as it can be almost invisible.

“We strongly urge those who enjoy fishing to be extra cautious to make sure nothing is left behind. Most anglers are very responsible when disposing of their litter, but it only takes one piece of snagged line to be left in a tree or dropped near the water to endanger the life of an animal. We ask anglers to follow the Angling Trust Anglers Against Litter campaign and make use of recycling schemes to dispose of their waste tackle.”

The RSPCA is also warning that discarded biodegradable food litter also poses dangers – putting many animals at risk of road traffic collisions.

Carrie said: “Many will be surprised that biodegradable food litter can be as dangerous to animals as other litter. If an apple core or fruit peel is thrown from a passing vehicle or discarded by the roadside, it can attract many kinds of wildlife – from mammals to birds – and put them in danger of passing vehicles.”