Hard working volunteers have cleared more than 500 bags of rubbish from County Durham’s beaches so far this year.

Plastic bottles, balloons, food wrappers and shopping trolleys are among the items removed during the regular litter picks, organised by the Heritage Coast team.

Heritage Coast is a partnership of local authorities, agencies and community bodies with an interest in protecting the coastline in Durham, Sunderland and Hartlepool.

Louise Harrington, Heritage Coast project officer at Durham County Council, one of the partners, said the contribution of volunteers was instrumental to the scheme’s success.

She praised the many schools, businesses and individuals who have supported the beach cleans, adding: “Anyone who watched the BBC’s ground-breaking and harrowing documentary Blue Planet 2 knows how detrimental rubbish like this is to wildlife – from the smallest seabird to the biggest marine mammal.

“It’s vital we educate people about the dangers and remove as much rubbish as we can. This not only protects wildlife but helps ensure our coastlines are safe and beautiful places to visit.”

So far this year, Heritage Coast has organised 17 beach clean-up operations, collecting an average of 30 bags of rubbish per clean. And they are not alone, with members of the Seaham Beach Cleaning Crew often spending an entire day on the beach and regularly collecting more than 100 bags per session.

The rubbish collected is a mixture of cans, bottles and food cartons which people have left behind, along with plastic items and fishing waste from the sea. A growing number of balloons are also being found, possibly due to the popularity of mass balloon releases. Other items removed include supermarket trolleys, bags, tyres and lobster pots.

To find out more about the Heritage Coast project, visit www.durhamheritagecoast.org