Camber Sands

Camber Sands is a beach in the village of Camber, near Rye. It has the only sand dune system in East Sussex. Starting on the eastern side of the mouth of the River Rother, it extends for three miles to just beyond the Kent border, where shingle takes over again.

The western end of the dunes lies within the Camber Sands and Rye Saltings Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), while the rest is designated a Site of Nature Conservation Importance. The dunes are tending to become larger by accretion, and are managed to prevent wind-blown problems.

Many films and TV programmes have been filmed here, including The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The Theory of Everything, Dunkirk, Follow That Camel, Dr Who and The Inbetweeners.

Brand Audits

The beach is popular with visitors during the holiday season, and can attract up to 30,000 people on the busiest days. In 2021 and 2022, Strandliners worked with the Coastal Officers here to survey the beach after a busy weekend and to try to find ways to mitigate the waste issues. The survey results have all been sent to Break Free From Plastic. Click on the buttons below to see the results.

A brand audit is a citizen science survey that involves sorting, identifying and recording the plastic waste collected. Documenting the brands found helps identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution. Strandliners uses the Break Free From Plastic methodology.

In October 2023, we worked with Rother District Council and DK-CM, the architects developing the new welcome centre at Camber, in a community event featuring a litter survey.

Strandliners also carries out annual microplastic surveys here for Fidra, as part of the Great Nurdle Hunt. Fidra is an environmental charity (named after the island in the Firth of Forth) working to reduce plastic waste and chemical pollution.

The group launched The Great Nurdle Hunt in 2013 to document the pollution caused by these plastic pellets, highlighting the issues facing people across Scotland, and then further afield. Fidra uses an evidence-based approach to to encourage and enable plastics producers, users, transporters, and trade associations to introduce best practice in plastic pellet management.

Strandliners collects data each October for The Great Nurdle Hunt at Camber Sands, but volunteers also look for bio-beads. Looking at the ratio of bio-beads to nurdles in each of our survey areas may give some indication of where they might be coming from.

Nurdles are small plastic pellets (5 mm in diameter) which are used by industry to make nearly all our plastic products. Transported around the world in their billions, accidental spills can result in large numbers being washed out to sea. For example a container spill in December 2023 resulted in millions of nurdles being washed up on the coast of north west Spain. At sea, nurdles can attract and concentrate background pollutants to toxic levels. Mistaken for food by animals, the plastics and the toxins coating them can enter the food chain.

Bio-beads are small plastic pellets used in some wastewater treatments plants. Kept in large tanks, they act as a filter when water is passed through them. Similar in diameter to nurdles, they have a crinkled surface to give them a large surface area. This enables bacteria, which break down biomass in the water, to grow on them. Air, bubbled through the water, keeps the bacteria alive. Thus they are sometimes called bio-media or Biological Aerated Flooded Filter (BAFF) media. Bio-beads are most often black or dark grey in colour. They can be lost into the environment during transport, or if a wastewater treatment plant has an issue with a damaged retaining mesh.

Surveying for nurdles and bio-beads on a regular basis can help raise awareness of nurdle pollution and spot trends and sudden changes (which might indicate a spill). Our normal practice is to survey one square metre at five random points along the strandline, between two specific points on the beach. Nurdles and bio-beads are present all along the shoreline, deposited by the sea, blown by the wind, and washed in and out
with the tides. Our most recent survey was featured in The Guardian

In October 2023, in our quadrat investigations we found 95 bio-beads to 47 nurdles. In our ‘nurdle race’ 10 volunteers found 3,150 bio-beads and 312 nurdles in 15 minutes. It appears the ratio of bio-beads to nurdles is decreasing year-on-year.

In October 2022, We found an average of 76 bio-beads and 19 nurdles per square metre, giving us a ratio of approximately 4:1. In our nurdle ‘race’ we found 1477 nurdles in 30 minutes. The beach is cleaned mechanically every day for much of the year and had been cleaned that morning, burying or removing everything on the strandline, which is where most of the nurdles collect.

In October 2021, we found more than1,350 bio-beads and 450 nurdles. Microplastics are found along the strandline and also accumulate in the lee of the large bins.

Strandliners have been involved in researching the issue locally, with a report written by an MSc student from the University of Brighton as part of a collaborative activity between the university and Rother District Council. You can read the report here.

In March 2020, the strandline was heaving with microplastics after high tides and winter storms. We picked up 10 kg of sediment in 10 minutes, which contained over 40,000 bio-beads and 5,000 nurdles.

In February 2019, in a windswept older strandline, our quadrat investigation found 115 bio-beads to 34 nurdles. Bio-beads were first observed here in 2012.