Most of us will have read reports and seen documentary footage of the growing problem of plastic waste in the seas and oceans, but it nevertheless came as a shock last week when we went to Porth Neigwl on the south coast of the Llŷn Peninsula and were confronted with unimaginable quantities of plastic rubbish.
A day or so earlier, we had been to the excellent Sea Zoo near Newborough on Angelsey. The Sea Zoo is an aquarium specialising in the wildlife to be found in the seas around Wales, and it includes a display on the problems of plastic waste which included pictures of a minky whale and a turtle washed up dead. Both were found to have huge quantities of plastic waste in their stomachs, and the whale had almost certainly died a slow and very painful death because the plastic had blocked its digestive tract.
Porth Neigwl, or Hell's Mouth to give it its English name, is a spectacular bay, with a beach that runs for at least two miles. The sand is backed by banks of shingle and low clay cliffs topped with sand dunes. Beyond that is a large area of low-lying and very sparsely populated farmland, criss-crossed by single track roads. It is remote and beautiful still.
At the eastern end, the beach is approached by 300 or 400 yards of track through the dunes, and there is a small car park. Even the car park is littered with plastic waste, most of which has obviously been dumped by visitors. Crisp packets, drinks bottles and other food containers nestle among the piles of dog shit, left despite the signs telling dog owners to clean up and the row of bins provided by the county council.
Someone had clearly decided to have a go at cleaning up, and a large tray of plastic rubbish lay abandoned half way down the track. The beach itself was covered with bits of nylon fishing net, syringes (quite a few of those), more plastic bottles and assorted bits of plastic rubbish. A lot of it had clearly been washed up, but a surprising amount had obviously been deposited recently by visitors coming from the land.
At the far western end of the bay and overlooking it from a headland stands Plas yn Rhiw, a National Trust property.
Despite its name, Plas yn Rhiw is not a grand house. In fact it is little more than a large farmhouse which was bought in a derelict state by three sisters in 1938. The Keatings were only modestly well-off, and they poured everything they had into renovating the house and gardens, always with the intention of giving it to the National Trust, which they did in the early 1950s. They continued to live in the house, and gradually bought bits of the land surrounding it to be gifted to the Trust.
The last of the sisters died in 1981, but the house is still pretty much as they left it. Walking into the house brought back memories of visiting old aunts, with the smell of coal tar, the ancient wireless set, the whiskery kisses, shelves of old books and battered old kitchen utensils.
The Keatings not only gave everything they had to restore their little corner of Llŷn, but also campaigned tirelessly against pylons, caravan parks and proposals for a nuclear power station on the north coast of the peninsula.
The power station was never built, and the pylons were not erected; but the caravan parks proliferated, and the sisters would be horrified to see the state of the beach.
Part of Porth Neigwl's problem is perhaps the fact that it is so remote. There are no nearby communities capable of generating gangs of volunteer cleaners. Undeniably some of the waste washed up in Porth Neigwl comes from far away, but equally, a great deal of it is Made in Britain.
Until public attitudes change, places like Porth Neigwl face a bleak future as giant dumping grounds and doggy toilets.