Residents living on the Carmarthenshire coast are warning that an “environmental disaster” is threatening Cefn Sidan beach near Pembrey, and are calling upon the authorities to take urgent action.

Known for its pristine eight miles of smooth sand, local walkers this week were horrified to discover the western side of Cefn Sidan under a deluge of plastic waste. Alistair Hare was a lifeguard in the area for nine years and encountered the pollution on his daily walk.

“It’s horrendous. There’s all sorts of plastic down there for more than a half a mile stretch," he said. "There’s polystyrene breaking into smaller and smaller pieces. It’s absolutely disgusting because on a windy day it blows around in the air and into the dunes.

“I keep going on about it to the council but they just seem to want to make excuses. They say it’s a collection point for marine litter, and it is, but they’re using that as a reason not to take action.

“The council has the machinery to do something. They could send their crews down to clear it."

Last year, Mr Hare published a book called ‘The Beaches of Wales’, which documents 500 beaches and coves around the Welsh coastline. In order to research the book, he visited each beach personally and maintains that Cefn Sidan is the very worst in Wales in terms of pollution.

“You wouldn’t see anything like that in Swansea or Pembrokeshire, or anywhere else for that matter. Most beaches throughout Wales get a good clean at least once a year. You just don’t see the sort of plastic pollution which is present at Cefn Sidan anywhere else.

“The second worst beach is just across the estuary in Laugharne, which is also in Carmarthenshire.

“The council doesn’t have a very good reputation. They seem to be living in the past. But what was acceptable twenty years ago isn’t acceptable nowadays.”

Environmentalist, Serah Thomas, who runs the Zero Waste Llanelli initiative, saw Mr Hare’s photographs on a local Facebook group.

“When I saw Alistair’s photos online, I just couldn’t believe it. I messaged Pembrey Country Park straight away to ask what was going to be done about the problem.

"The response to me just gave a reason for the problem but there was no plan of action whatsoever to deal with it. Everybody else I know who contacted them were given roughly the same excuse.”

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Dissatisfied, Mrs Thomas decided to walk the round trip of thirteen miles in order to document the situation for social media.

“I genuinely felt as though I was walking through a war zone on the beach. It was heartbreaking to see the state of it and as I walked further along it kept getting worse.

"The plastic is entangled with organic matter and it’s deep within the dunes. I was doing my best to try to move the waste away from the high tide mark but I’m just one person. I carried a big tray and a bucket for more than a mile and it was a struggle.

“The local beach walkers are amazing though. You can see that they’ve shifted lots of the plastic to the beach entrances so that it can be collected. But this needs a co-ordinated response from the authorities because the location is so remote.

Cefn Sidan was the first beach in Wales to be awarded a coveted blue flag award for its central section in front of Pembrey Country Park, which is run by Carmarthenshire County Council. It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the presence of the rare strand line beetle, Eurynebria Complanata.

The National understands that Pembrey Country Park is holding discussions with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) on how best to deal with the situation. 

In a statement, Mr Andrew Lewis, marine area advice and management team for NRW said: “Marine litter is a serious problem for wildlife and it’s essential that we do everything we can to prevent it. It’s also very important that we collect and dispose of it in the right way, especially where vulnerable species are involved.

“Cefn Sidan beach is home to the rare and endangered strandline beetle - and one of only three sites left in Wales to feature this rare invertebrate. It has become extinct on nine Welsh dunes since 1980, and is now extinct in England largely due to mechanised cleaning.

"At Cefn Sidan, the rare beetle lives in the material washed up onto the shore, including plastic waste. So, it is essential that man-made litter is removed by hand in the correct way during supervised beach cleans where training has been given.”

Camarthenshire Council's head of leisure Ian Jones added: “We share the same frustrations and aspirations as others - we of course wish to keep our coastline clean and litter free - but we ask people to appreciate that this is a recurring issue due to the geography of Cefn Sidan beach that is difficult to control, especially so in the current circumstances when we have limited resources and we’re working under restrictions.

“The western end of this eight-mile beach is susceptible to marine litter, and debris is washed up with most tides often leaving a trail of rubbish on the strandline.

"We have to manage beach cleans at this location incredibly carefully due to the presence of strandline beetles, a protected species which has adapted its habitat to seek refuge in beach debris as well as natural debris.

"Cefn Sidan is one of only a handful of locations in the UK where these beetles can be found - this means we cannot use machinery and have to very carefully manage all litter picks in this area. For that reason, although we understand people want to help, we are urging people not to organise their own litter picks in this area.

“We absolutely value and appreciate the help of volunteers to help us keep on top of strandline debris at this location, which is some four miles west of the Blue Flag area. Unfortunately due to level four Covid-19 restrictions, when people are asked to stay at home, we are unable to organise volunteer litter picks - although in previous years we have recorded over 1,500 hours of much valued volunteering.

"We have a small team of staff covering not just Cefn Sidan but other beaches and outdoor recreational space across Carmarthenshire, who are working hard under difficult conditions to manage these issues. We appreciate the local concern but also ask for patience and understanding. Once restrictions are lifted we will let people know how they can support our team and look after this area of beach.”

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Editor's note: This article has been updated to include comments from NRW and Camarthenshire County Council.