Face mask warning to Wiganers as RSPCA called to rescue entangled wildlife

Wiganers are being warned to “snip the straps” from disposable face masks to stop animals from becoming entangled.
A discarded face mask in WiganA discarded face mask in Wigan
A discarded face mask in Wigan

Since lockdown started on March 23, the RSPCA said it has dealt with 938 incidents of animals caught in litter, including tin cans, elastic bands and plastic bottles.

Dumped face masks have become a new hazard to wildlife since the pandemic started and the charity has received reports of animals tangled in the ear straps of single-use masks since it became law for the public to wear them in shops.

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And discarded masks have been seen blowing around Wigan, with pictures showing them on Wigan Lane near the hospital, but they’ve also been spotted in the town centre and on residential streets.

Face masks litter the streets of WiganFace masks litter the streets of Wigan
Face masks litter the streets of Wigan

The problem of discarded masks in Wigan and across the country has prompted a message from the charity for people to “snip the straps” off face masks as Great British September Clean launches.

Chris Sherwood, RSPCA chief executive, said the charity is concerned discarded face masks could be a “significant hazard”, particularly to wild animals and birds.

He said: “For many years the public have been aware of the message to cut up plastic six-pack rings before throwing them away to stop animals getting tangled in them, and now we are keen to get out the message that the same should be done for face masks too - as very sadly, animals are susceptible to getting tangled up in them.

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“Now that face masks are the norm, and may be for some time to come, this message is more important than ever as thousands of these masks are being thrown away every day. We’re concerned discarded face masks could become a significant hazard, particularly to wild animals and birds.

He added: “Our RSPCA officers have had to rescue animals from getting tangled in face masks and we expect that this may go up as time goes on, so the best thing to do is to simply cut the elastic ear straps in half before throwing it away.”

Other recent litter-related incidents dealt with by the RSPCA include a fox who got his head stuck in a plastic bottle in Portsmouth, which resulted in the fox suffering deep cuts to his neck. Fortunately, after treatment at an RSPCA centre, he was released back into the wild.

Elsewhere in Clifton, Bristol, staff found a gull skewered by a kebab stick which had been left on the side of a road. The stick had become so deeply embedded in the gull that he did not make it.

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While in Littlehampton, East Sussex, a fox who was found with his head stuck in a large plastic reel in a car park, was miraculously uninjured and was released.

RSPCA's top tips to protect wildlife from litter

- Recycle and reuse as much as possible - and put everything else in the bin;

- Cut the loop handles of plastic carrier bags before recycling to prevent animals being tangled;

- Cut plastic can holders and elastic bands so animals can't get caught up;

- Cut up balloons before putting them in the bin;

- Cut up disposable gloves and snip the straps on face masks to prevent animals getting tangled;

- Clean and empty containers after use and pinch cans shut or cut containers in half before recycling.