Disposable face masks have contributed to huge rise in pollution found in Yorkshire's rivers and canals, say environmental campaigners
Litter found in the waterways has increased by 68 per cent nationally in the past 12 months, say the Canal & River Trust, with particular concerns about the risks which face masks pose to wildlife and birds.
Mark Barrow, an experienced diver based in Wetherby who has been exploring Yorkshire’s rivers for 30 years, said surgical face masks and dust masks were now a regular sight.
“The plastic pollution has tripled in the last ten years, but I would say in the past year it has increased by at least 50 per cent,” said Mr Barrow, 50.
He added that there was also an increase in litter such as pizza boxes, cans and plastic bottles in recent months, which he said attributed to people spending more time outdoors due to the coronavirus restrictions.
“We have just become such a lazy society,” he said.
"A few months ago I was doing a river clean up and removed 150 big sacks of plastic from the River Calder near Wakefield.
"The further you get away from urban areas, the less you tend to see it."
Face masks in particular pose hazards to wildlife due to being easily carried by currents and getting tangled in the feet of ducks and swans. Mr Barrow said he had also seen fish getting stuck with face masks wrapped around their bodies.
It comes as the Canal & River Trust launched a campaign this week backed by Strictly Come Dancing winner Bill Bailey calling on the public to be more mindful about not leaving litter.
A spokeswoman for the Trust said: “Canals and rivers have been havens for mental and physical health during the pandemic, with more weekly visits to local towpaths since last March in many urban areas.
“However, this has been accompanied by a rise in littering, up 68 per cent in 2020, putting the nation’s precious waterway wildlife habitats at risk and causing an unsightly problem.”
Comedian Bill Bailey, who is a keen paddleboarder in canals and rivers, said: “If everyone gets involved by doing a little bit when they are out on the towpath, we can make a significant difference, catching it at source before it floats out to sea.”
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