Drive against plastic on Snowdon as littering surges with visitor numbers
Shocking video shows extent of litter left behind on Snowdon
Surging numbers of visitors flocking to Snowdon has sparked a drive against plastic - after research revealed that soil on the mountain is contaminated with microplastics.
The number of people visiting Wales' largest summit has skyrocketed over the last year as more Britons opt for staycations during the pandemic.
Walkers have reported hour-long waits to reach the summit amid huge queues.
More than 700,000 people are expected to climb the peak this year - up from about 500,000 in 2018 and almost twice the 2012 figure.
But record tourist numbers are putting a huge strain on the environment and those who work in the national park, with shocking scenes of litter emerging.
Mountain rescuers are also feeling the pressure, with volunteers in Llanberis expecting this month to be their busiest for call-outs ever recorded.
The Snowdonia Society, which helps to maintain the mountain, said litter and erosion had become "really quite significant" this year.
A study is now set to be carried out to assess how Snowdon can achieve plastic free status.
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Measures could include extra water refill stations for reusable bottles and a crackdown on single-plastic packaging.
In addition, a renewed publicity campaign advising walkers how they can help tackle plastic pollution will also be launched.
The move comes after new research confirmed suspicions that soil on Snowdon now harbours large concentrations of microplastics.
The tiny particles are thought to stem mostly from the degradation of larger pieces of plastic, such as food wrappers and discarded drink bottles.
Some also included microfibres from clothing - although scientists said a portion of these might have blown in.
Researchers are still assessing the potential dangers posed by microplastics but it is believed that they pose a significant threat to wildlife and even human health longterm.
John Harold, chair of Snowdonia Partnership, said: "These results are a stark reminder of how persistent plastic is when it gets into the environment.
"This work shows what happens when plastic is let loose in the soils and freshwater of our precious protected areas; it breaks into countless particles and we lose control of it."
Soil samples revealed the largest amounts of microplastics where people congregate in large numbers, notably at the summit.
The biggest concentrations were found lower down the mountain at a bridge used by Snowdon Mountain Railway, under which the popular Llanberis Path passes.
Mr Harold is also director of Snowdonia Society, which organises a series of litter picking days on Snowdon during the year.
He said: "A huge amount of litter is cleared by staff and volunteers, but by no means all gets picked up."
The provision of bins on Snowdon is unlikely to be recommended due to practical difficulties with collection and wind dispersal.
It is hoped local businesses will ditch the sale of harmful products such as single-use bottles.
Additionally, walkers are being urged to take extra care to ensure they do not accidentally litter.
Mr Harold advised: "If, for example, you climb the mountain with your lunch in a tupperware box, you're less likely to see food packaging and wrapper blown away in sudden gusts of wind."