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Toy figures are among the mountains of bizarre debris. Photos by Tracey Williams

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Tracey trawling.

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False teeth are a regular find . . . go figure.

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Chip packets from 1971.

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"Beachcombers" share some of the more bizarre discoveries from England's coastline.

14 May 18

Scouring the beach for hidden treasure is by no means a new hobby - rather, beachcombing has been around for centuries and was once the preserve of low-society drifters. But a new breed of eco-friendly hobbyists are trying to stem the rising tide of plastic in the seas by sifting through the man-made debris landing on our shores.

Sir David Attenborough's rallying call to protect our oceans during Blue Planet II highlighted the huge scale of rubbish in the seas - estimated by National Geographic to be 5.2 trillion pieces.

It helped prompt a surge of action from authorities, companies and individuals to take bold steps to reduce plastic use.

But the years of damage already done by those dumping litter is washing up on our sands with alarming regularity - from packaging going back decades to bed frames and false teeth.

To highlight the issue, so-called beachcombers share some of the more bizarre discoveries from England's coastline.

Tracey Williams from Newquay describes her hobby as "beach archaeology" and trawls the shores of Cornwall every single day, collecting colourful items before going home to trace their origins.

The holiday cottages owner became "really fascinated" with beach cleaning when she found Lego pieces which had washed up after a cargo spill 21 miles off the Cornish coast in 1997 - and the fact they still wash up to this day is something she finds "astonishing".

Among her other finds are colourful goggles and toothbrushes, as well as toy figures, some of which were distributed in Cornflakes boxes dating back to the 1950s.

"Picking up people's rubbish can be really soul destroying. I post pictures on social media of the more interesting items to promote the issue, as often people have no idea these things are washing up.

"A good example is I used to pick up hundreds of short plastic pens on a beach and had no idea where they came from.

"Then when I spent time in London I found them outside the bookies' shops falling into the drains, and realised that's how they must be getting into the sea.

"I also once found a baby carrier and a lab coat with a name on which I traced back to Holland. The lady said she had no idea how her lab coat could have ended up on a beach in Cornwall."

She explains many intriguing items come from cargo spills or people simply losing things on the beach or off boats.

Sometimes such items spend decades in the sea, before being washed in due to weather changes and currents.

Every now and again a big swathe of debris will wash up in a big mass of seaweed. "I find lots of goggles, snorkel masks and toothbrushes as well as medical waste," she said.

She shares information with a network of beachcombers on Twitter and Instagram but says often it is impossible to trace where an item has come from.





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