Litter in our oceans can have a devastating impact on wildlife at sea. Most of us have seen upsetting images of turtles, whales, dolphins or seabirds entangled with plastics or discarded fishing gear. Perhaps less well known is the tragic effect that marine litter can have on land mammals when it washes up on our beaches.
Recently on Rum National Nature Reserve, which is managed by NatureScot, staff dealt with a distressing incident: two red stags had become snarled up in some washed-up fishing rope and bound together at their antlers. Sadly the two stags did not survive their ordeal.
Red deer stags with rope and netting caught on their antlers is an all too familiar occurrence, particularly around Scotland’s West Coast. Thankfully it doesn’t always end so tragically, as stags naturally cast their antlers in the spring. It’s not unusual to come across shed antlers entwined with old rope.
But the worst cases do end badly. Often the rope starts around the antlers but as the deer struggles to free itself, the rope catches its legs too.
Rope can be surprisingly heavy and a sapping burden for a deer to carry around on its head. It can restrict movement, preventing the stag from feeding properly and leading to starvation. Sometimes the rope will rub, causing an open wound, and the afflicted animal will die from an infection. Even a small piece of rope can cause problems.
Marine litter can hang around on our shores for a long time – usually until it is removed by hand – and a single piece of rubbish thoughtlessly chucked overboard can claim more than one victim. On Rum staff once discovered a dead deer caught up in a piece of fishing rope which already had an old deer skull attached. Who knows, had we not removed it, the rope may have one day claimed a third victim.
This is not an issue unique to Rum, or deer: marine litter can be a problem for animals all around Scotland’s 10,000 miles of coastline.
Marine pollution is a huge global problem but there are many small things that everyone can do locally to help wildlife on their doorstep, now and in the future. If you are out walking on the coastline, any marine waste that you collect, no matter how small, will make a difference and could even save a life.
You could also get involved in a large scale beach clean, or even organise your own. If you want to help you could check out the Marine Conservation Society’s Beachwatch website or join the 2 minute beach clean movement for an upcoming event near you. Oceans initiative is an international initiative where you can find out about getting involved in beach cleans in other countries or find help in organising your own. Beach cleans are great social events for all ages. You can also keep an eye on the Rum NNR website and Isle of Rum website for dates of future beach cleans that you could get involved with.