Progress on clean up of polystyrene debris polluting Pegwell nature site and Undercliff beach

Polystyrene pollution at the Undercliff Photo Rebecca Douglas

Polystyrene blocks that that have started to disintegrate and shed thousands of pieces in the Pegwell nature reserve and along the Western Undercliff are being removed.

The pollution first came to light on Friday when Thanet Coastal Warden Nik Mitchell spotted a polystyrene block and thousands of bits shed across  the Undercliff.

A community effort of coastal wardens, volunteers and town and district council staff to clear up the debris has since taken place. District councillors Tony Ovenden, who is also a coastal warden, and Becky Wing also took part in the effort and have contacted various organisations. County councillor Karen Constantine raised the issue with the county authority.

The source was identified as coming from under a pontoon ‘washed up’ in the heart of the nature reserve with several more blocks at risk of breaking away. The polystyrene is used to float pontoons.

Thanet council, the Environment Agency, Kent County Council, Kent Wildlife Trust and the counter pollution and salvage officer from the Maritime Coastguard Agency were all notified.

Tony previously explained the situation, saying: “There are two pontoons ashore at the Sandwich side of the river. They are concrete pontoons and were originally kept afloat by blocks of sealed polystyrene.

“There are six blocks remaining, three under each pontoon. The polystyrene is breaking down and the eventual weight of the concrete pontoon will crush it. Doing the maths of the amount of polystyrene left under the pontoon allowed to breakdown, it amounts to an environmental disaster.”

He added that the pontoons came ashore in January in a restricted area, which is managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust, where human activity is banned. The first anybody knew of it in Thanet was when the debris arrived at the Western Undercliff last week.

Work is underway to remove the blocks from the nature reserve site Photo Nik Mitchell

Today (March 17) clearance of three loose pieces of the polystyrene at the nature reserve site has been taking place with plans being made for further removals.

Sandwich Marina harbour master Ian Broughton is among those working to deal with the issue.

He said:  “Earlier emergency works with Kent Wildlife Trust yesterday were thwarted by the tides, but we are confident that the removal of these pontoons can now happen quickly.  This will enable clean-up works to commence with a view to completion before the full onset of the nesting season.”

Photo Rebecca Douglas

Stephen Weeks of Kent Wildlife Trust said the trust was working with the relevant authorities to deal with the issue and thanked volunteers who have been part of the clear up.

Thanet Green Party members says they have also been working to find a resolution for the pollution.

Vice chair Deb Shotton said: “Whilst the pontoons themselves may not be in water over which Thanet council believes it has jurisdiction, the coastline being polluted is ours and the seas belong to everyone.  By now these toxic polystyrene beads will be spreading all along the Channel coastline, affecting everything living in these seas and on our beaches; this problem belongs to us all.”

Yesterday Nik, who runs the Wildlife Conservation in Thanet facebook page, said Kent Wildlife Trust and the Sandwich harbour master were making ‘fast progress’ on the clean up.

UPDATE: March 18 – All pontoons/polystyrene floats have now been removed from the nature reserve

Photo Nik Mitchell


  1. This is an immensely serious issue. I understand that today the Council Leader Rick Everitt, instead of contacting the leader at Dover Council immediately, passed the buck to a Councillor. I am lost for words at this kind of disregard for our precious protected coast. In the vernacular, “what a lazy b’stard!”

    • Yes that seems to be the case, it’s shocking isn’t it. When you think how important this coastline is to Thanet in so many ways.

      • We have 22 miles of unique chalk reef and wildlife, with environmental protection and the clowns who fail to appreciate why people really come here is absolutely astonishing. They know the price of many things but the value of nothing.
        The former Labour Councillor Mike Harrison, notorious for his homophobia and misogyny in office is to be tried in Canterbury Court for embezzling community funds! He was responsible for designating Ramsgate port as a commercial pollution hub losing the community vast sums of money over years of Port losses.

        • There seem to be many on TDC who should hang their heads in shame about what has happened here at this port. TDC sold these polluting pontoons at auction… these ones are two of ten. Is there no duty of care on Councils with such terribly polluting entities as this? No due diligence as to their future management?

          • Has Brett’s been proved to be seriously polluting? or is this just a vendetta by people who want a “maritime village”?

  2. I have asked for the full involvement and support of the Kent Resilience Forum. They need to be here tackling this. The polystyrene has spread everywhere. It’s in the hedges across from the beach, it’s on the paths and road side as well as the beach, it’s in the water- as I took a swim this afternoon. KCC ? Environment Cabinet member and Leader? Not even a response except to say it’s ‘litter’. It’s a disgrace!

  3. Yes I totally agree, and I think some of the Green Councillors have been particularly proactive behind the scenes with Kent Wildlife Trust, etc. But TDC should be doing this for all of us! Whether it’s litter picking of this terrible pollution, or raising alarms to get it sorted, it’s not individuals who should be doing this, it needs Council input and co-ordination! Such a serious event for our coast. Sad times.

  4. According to the Environment Agency SE, TDC is leading the clear up.

    Is there a statement from KWT or others to confirm if these were on shore in January and at what point were the various parties aware and why were they not removed as a matter of urgency.

    The damage is horrific. So sad for our beaches and wildlife.

  5. Thank goodness for Thanet Green Party and Ramsgate Town Council in particular, as well as the army of wonderful volunteers in our community and all the people who reported this and kept escalating it.

  6. If supplying the odd bag and turning up with a hoover amounts to a clear up, then maybe:on the other hand for the necessary booms, cranes and high level intervention needed to resolve the issue, then as I see it the Sandwich Harbour Master is the man of the moment. TDC are trailing badly.

  7. I should qualify my comment as it lacks the sarcasm I felt when writing it. I understand it is Sandwich Harbour Master leading this, along with KWT. And the volunteers. And RTC. And Thanet Greens.

    It would be good to know what TDC is doing.

    It would be good to have a statement from KWT.

    It seems like a whole heap of TDC KCC buck passing.

  8. Isn’t the important thing to get the source of the pollution removed and cleanup underway, rather than blame all and sundry?

    • Done, Andrew. They were removed from the beach yesterday by a team supervised by Ian Broughton, the operation finished at about 8.30pm last night. KWT will be leading a clean up operation. In the meantime, we can all do what we can, as lockdown makes a huge, formal concerted effort very difficult.

    • “rather than blame all and sundry?”

      Why do you take issue with holding those responsible, accountable?

  9. That’s good to hear.
    When I went down to Ramsgate Port for my lateral flow test this morning I noticed bits of polystyrene blowing around.

    • Yes, it’s everywhere. No doubt if you went for your lateral flow test in Calais next week you’ll find it blowing around down there too! It’s real environmental nightmare.

  10. I see no evidence of blame throwing. People want to understand accountability, this is quite natural and quite reasonable.

    When I don’t know whose job something is in my world, I take responsibility and move ahead with it and make it happen and find out. I don’t just say that ain’t my job.

    People are rightly frustrated and distressed about this latest saga to befall our beautiful area. Especially as it appears preventable.

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