RSPB: Careless disposal of plastic bags puts marine birds at risk

Red-throated diver with plastic bag in North Uist, Western Isles.
Red-throated diver with plastic bag in North Uist, Western Isles.

RSPB Scotland has spoken out about the danger of plastic bags to Scotland’s wildlife after a visitor to the Western Isles photographed a rare red-throated diver with a plastic bag in its beak. The bird was seen on a loch in a remote part of North Uist.

The red-throated diver’s recent moderate population decline makes them an Amber List species.

Jamie Boyle, site manager of the RSPB’s Uist reserves, said: “We urge people to take great care in the way they dispose of plastic bags or, indeed, any other rubbish, particularly balloons and Chinese lanterns. They pose a direct threat to our wildlife and it is depressing to think that plastic bags are even reaching remote lochs in a place like North Uist.

“Marine birds such as red-throated divers are particularly at risk both at sea and on their breeding grounds where they can mistake the bags for fish or mistakenly use it for nesting material. If it becomes entangled on their legs or heads it can prove fatal.”

RSPB Scotland welcomed the Scottish Parliament’s approval earlier this year of new regulations that will introduce a compulsory charge for single-use carrier bags.

The 5p charge, applying to all retailers from October this year, will aim to reduce use of single-use carrier bags by 80%.

The charge will apply to most single-use carrier bags (excluding some types of bag such as paper bags for prescriptions, and also ‘bags for life’) and is mainly aimed at tackling plastic bag usage.

In Scotland, around 740m carrier bags were used in 2011 - or around 12 bags per person per month.