The number of plastic carrier bags found on UK beaches has dropped by almost 40% between 2015 and 2016, a report has claimed.
According to a report from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) in September, there were fewer than seven plastics bags per 100m of coastline surveyed in 2016. This was down from 11 in 2015.
Beaches in England and Northern Ireland saw the biggest reduction during the September clean up at more than 50% fewer than 2015.
The charity credits this to the 5p bag charge introduced in October last year in England, although charges in Northern Ireland started in 2013.
Smaller reductions were reported in Scotland and Wales, where the charge has been in place for two and five years, respectively.
Lauren Eyles, MCS beachwatch manager, said: “This year, for the first time since the charges were introduced, we have seen a significant drop in the number [of bags], and that can only be as a result of the 5p charge which is now in place in all the home nations.
“It vindicates the charge, which we predicted would be good news for the marine environment.”
The charity reported a fall of almost 4% in litter found on UK beaches between 2015 and 2016, down to 268,384 individual items.
Beaches in Scotland saw a decrease of 18% in overall litter levels, rubbish in the north-east dropped by 14% and in the Channel Islands by 10%.
But there were increases in beach litter in the north-west (24%), Wales and the south-west (15%) and Northern Ireland (9%).
It also showed a rise of more than 4% in the quantity of drinks containers found on the UK’s beaches – including plastic bottles, bottle tops and aluminium cans.
And there was a 53.5% increase in the amount of balloon-related litter found on UK beaches compared with 2015.
The charity says the English litter strategy, currently being drafted by Defra, and strategies elsewhere across the UK, must include specific actions to tackle the problems highlighted by the surveys.
Defra has already hailed the 5p bag charge as a “huge success”.
In August, it reported that more than seven billion carrier bags were issued by seven leading retailers in 2014 but that fell to around half a billion in the six months after the charge was introduced in October 2015.