LOCKDOWN has seen a huge surge in the number of people using the region’s canal towpaths.

The Canal & River Trust says the Craven section of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which has recently undergone major towpath surface improvements, is among areas where usage has soared most dramatically.

But whilst the charity is delighted at the increased public awareness of what canals and rivers can offer and welcomes the rise in users, there is a worrying downside.

In the past six months, the number of reports to the trust about unsightly litter on towpaths and in waterways across the region has rocketed by 136 per cent.

And in June alone, complaints more than doubled compared to the same time last year.

Now the Canal & River Trust has launched the Plastics Challenge, which is encouraging people to carry out litter picks – safely and in adherence with Covid guidelines – when visiting their local canal or river.

Sean McGinley, the trust’s Yorkshire & North East director, says: “The increased reports of litter are likely to be down to greater public awareness of the plastics issue as well as the fact that towpath usage has dramatically increased during the coronavirus lockdown – with people staying local and discovering their canal towpath for the first time.

“Every year, 14 million pieces of plastic end-up in and around our canals and rivers. These bottles, food wrappers, bags and straws can be harmful for the fish, swans, ducks and birds that make the canals their home.

“By making a pledge to support our Plastics Challenge and taking part in a litter pick with your family, or on your own as part of your daily exercise, you are making a commitment to helping the local wildlife too.”

People can pledge their support at canalrivertrust.org.uk/plasticschallenge, or via social media @CanalRiverTrust #PlasticsChallenge.

Participants should wear gloves or use a litter picker if they have one and are asked to take home – and recycle if possible – what they collect.

Government guidelines on social distancing and washing your hands should be followed. Advice about carrying out the activity safely is available on the trust website.

Photos can be shared on social media using #PlasticsChallenge.