Coastal Pollution Incidents

Please read our information on how we are supporting residents and businesses, as well as information on affected services.

Each week hundreds of ships pass along the north and south coasts of Cornwall. This includes between Lands End and the Isles of Scilly.
Each of these ships present some risk of pollution to the coast. This might arise as a result of many incidents. These could include:
  • collision
  • grounding
  • sinking
  • structural failure and
  • loss of cargo overboard
A major accident occurring many miles from the Cornish coast could affect the County. Even on the other side of the English Channel.
The main authorities to deal with a coastal pollution incident in Cornwall are:
  • Cornwall Council
  • Harbour Commissioners and Harbour Masters
  • Natural England
  • Environment Agency
  • Counter Pollution and Response Branch of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)
  • Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority
  • Marine Management Organisation (MMO)

  • Producing, validating, reviewing and updating the Cornwall Coastal Counter Pollution Plan.
  • Producing, validating, reviewing and updating the Falmouth Bay and Estuaries Maritime Emergency Plan.
  • Providing a qualified Coastal Counter Pollution Officer (CCPO)
  • Co-ordinating the training of staff in oil counter-pollution measures such as Beachmaster training.
  • Dealing with small scale pollution incidents. Particularly the clean-up of amenity beaches and other publicly accessible foreshores.
  • Disposing of waste arising from clean-up operations.
  • Establishing, if necessary, the county Tactical Coordinating Group to co-ordinate counter pollution activities.

In the UK, spills are categorised by the internationally adopted Tier system. This can be dependent on the type of oil or spill volume but is largely dependent on the scale of resources required for the response.

Tier 1:  A small operational spill employing local resources during any clean-up. This is usually within the local authority or harbour authority. Cornwall Council would usually lead on this tier response.

Tier 2:  A medium sized spill, requiring regional assistance and resources. This is usually beyond the capability of one local authority.

Tier 3:  A large oil spill, requiring a national resources and response. The National Contingency Plan (NCP) will be activated. The MCA will be actively involved.

The Cornwall Council Beach Clean-up Guidelines are part of the Coastal Counter Pollution Plan. Responders use the guidelines in the event of a coastal pollution incident in Cornwall. The guidelines produced by Cornwall Council are recognised as good practise during training courses of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The beaches in the guidelines are defined as priority amenity beaches. They are selected for a number of reasons. This includes reasons of environmental, tourism and socio-economical importance. The ownership of the beaches is varied. It includes the local council, private estates, and the National Trust.

The guidelines contain essential information to help the beach supervisor with the clean up. This includes:

  • Grid references and satnav postcodes
  • Size/area of beach
  • Vehicle and pedestrian access and parking
  • Available facilities (toilets, mobile phone signal, catering)
  • Photographs
  • Archaeological information
  • Environmental information and designations
  • Where to temporarily store oily waste

Beach Supervisors

The Beach Supervisor oversees specified sections of coast in a shoreline response operation. They have complete responsibility for all personnel and activities.

Most Beach Supervisors are Cornwall Council staff. Some are from:

  • independent Ports and Harbours
  • the RNLI
  • other agencies

The Emergency Management team organise the training of Beach Supervisors every 2-3 years. This is run by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

A wide variety of items and materials wash up along the Cornish Coastline every year. Some items may be unusual or even potentially dangerous such as

  • unexploded ordinance
  • dead whales
  • coconut oil

If you come across an unusual item or substance on a beach you should report it to the Coastguard on 01326 317575.

This will start the process of collection and disposal of the substance or material. The Bomb Disposal Unit based in Plymouth will dispose of unexploded ordinance. The land owner or Cornwall Council deal with rubbish on the beach.

If in any doubt, don't mess with it

Stranded marine animals

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Sperm Whale In Cornwall

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