Opinion Piece by Tim Birch, Senior Advocacy and Policy Manager for Wildlife Trusts Wales 


Plastic Pollution on River Taff

I visited Cardiff recently and took a walk along the River Taff Trail through the city. I had been told by a friend that it was a lovely walk and as I work for Wildlife Trusts Wales, I might be able to spot some wildlife along the river. What I saw was not what I expected and was truly shocking. The amount of plastic pollution strewn along the banks of the river was the worst I have ever seen in the UK. It wasn’t in just one or two spots but along extensive stretches of the riverbank. I saw wildlife such as mute swans and rare birds called goosanders waddling on the banks amongst the plastic. The Taff Trail was full of people, and I wondered what they thought of it.! There is a lot of talk about addressing the plastic crisis in our environment. From what I could see on the banks of the River Taff there seems to be little action. It reminded me of townships I have seen in South Africa where they sadly don’t have the infrastructure and waste collection facilities needed to clean up litter and plastic waste and to recycle it. But this is the capital of Wales! What on earth is going on?

I have been attending River Pollution Summits recently in Cardiff at Welsh Government offices which have been led by the First Minister and I thought it was so ironic that there is a lot of talk about stopping pollution of our rivers but horrendous plastic pollution right in the heart of Cardiff continues.

Make no mistake, this is a serious threat to wildlife both above and below the water. It is also a serious threat to the ongoing plastic pollution of our oceans. Every bit of plastic that flows from our rivers into our oceans deepens the plastic crisis in our seas. Plastic if left to itself will get infinitely smaller but will never disappear. The closer plastic is to a river and the closer that river is to the ocean as with the River Taff the greater the chances that the plastic will reach the sea and end up getting widely circulated through ocean currents. Impacts of plastic pollution on wildlife can be significant as the plastic gets smaller and is ingested by wildlife.

Mute swans at risk on River Taff from pollution


Some plastics contain harmful and toxic additives and chemicals. They also act as magnets for toxins from the surrounding air or water so the longer a piece of plastic is out there the more harmful it can become to any animal that ingests it. Larger items of plastic, and I saw many on the banks of the River Taff, are a ticking time bomb, breaking down over time and increasing levels of microplastics in the water environment. These microplastics travel up the food chain that ultimately ends with humans.

There needs to be an urgent clean up and where possible recycling of the huge amount of plastic waste and litter along the banks of the River Taff in Cardiff. In addition, there needs to be an urgent strategy to significantly reduce the amount of plastic reaching the water environment in and around Cardiff and that means addressing the wider problems of plastic pollution in the water catchments that surround Cardiff. The River Taff is such a wonderful asset for the people of Cardiff and important for wildlife. It needs some love.

Goosanders on banks of Taff near all plastic pollution.  They dive in the river looking for food. They are at risk eating fish which may contain micro plastics.


There is a plastic crisis along the River Taff in Cardiff. It needs addressing and fast.