Friday 1 July 2022 02:21 PM Scientists find plastic in the droppings of British wildlife trends now
Some of Britain's most treasured wildlife, including hedgehogs, voles and wood mice, are ingesting plastic particles, a new study shows.
Researchers have sampled more than 200 droppings from seven wildlife species in England and Wales, with help from the public.
They identified plastic polymers in four out of the seven species – European hedgehog, wood mouse, field vole and brown rat.
Some particles were microplastics (plastic less than 0.2 of an inch in diameter) while others were microfibres (synthetic fibres with a diameter under 0.0004 of an inch).
Researchers investigating the exposure of small mammals to plastics in England and Wales have found traces in the feces of more than half of the species examined. The species with the most ingested plastic ingested was the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus, pictured)
Images of plastic polymer fragments taken from the wildlife samples - A) protein A helix film, B) polyethylene, C) polyethylene, D) polypropylene, E) polyester, F) polynorbornene
- European hedgehog
- Wood mouse
- Field vole
- Brown rat
No plastic was found in the other three species:
- Bank vole
- Pygmy shrew
The species with the most ingested plastic was the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), the experts found.
Unfortunately, this species is already in decline in the UK for reasons that are largely unknown, and are classified as 'vulnerable to extinction' on the IUCN Red List.
But how exactly the plastic particles reach the creatures and their impact on their health is largely unknown.
The study was conducted by experts at University of Sussex, the Mammal Society and the University of Exeter and is published in Science of the Total Environment.
‘European hedgehogs consume earthworms and previous studies have found these to contain microplastics,' said study author Professor Fiona Mathews at the University of Sussex.
'So we really need further research to establish the scale and route of exposure more precisely, and to assess prevalence in predatory species that consume small mammals, so that we can take adequate steps to try to protect our declining wildlife from plastics.'
For the study, researchers and volunteers used humane traps to catch wildlife in England and Wales, and collected 261 faecal samples.
The samples represented seven species – the European hedgehog, wood mouse, field vole, brown rat, rabbit, bank vole and pygmy shrew.
Graphical abstract shows the affected species who tested 'plastic positive' - the European hedgehog, wood mouse, field vole and brown rat
To find plastic in the samples, researchers used infrared microscopy in the lab, which transmits infrared wavelengths of light to penetrate a sample.
Microfibres are microscopic particles that come loose from textiles and clothing, thinner than a human hair and invisible to the naked eye.
They come from natural fabrics, such as cotton, or synthetic ones, such as polyester - which are also considered to be microplastics.
'Fast fashion' plays a big role in microfibre pollution of airways and waterways.
In all, 43 of the samples (16.5 per cent) were found to be 'plastic positive'.
Of the 43 plastic-positive faecal samples, 36 were from the European hedgehog, four were from the wood mouse, two