DESPITE a growing awareness of recycling responsibly, plastic litter incidents causing harm to animals is at an all-time high, it has been revealed.

Figures from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) showed more than 270 incidents in the South East between 2015 and 2018.

The animal welfare charity recorded a rise in incidents affecting animals involving plastic litter from 473 in 2015 to 579 in 2018, bucking a downward trend for all types of litter.

Latest data also reveals there are certain animals - especially those that live in water habitats - which are being affected disproportionately by plastic.

Adam Grogan, head of Wildlife, said: “This shocking rise in plastic litter incidents suggests that plastic is a growing threat to animals.

“Every year, the RSPCA deals with increasing numbers of mammals, birds and reptiles that have become entangled or affected in some way by discarded plastic.

"From seals with deep infected wounds caused by plastic frisbees cutting into their necks, to swans and geese trapped in fishing line or netting, plastic is clearly having an increasing impact on animal welfare.

“Our latest data sadly reflects the wider litter crisis taking place right now across the globe and action is urgently needed. It is up to every one of us to do our bit in the war against litter.”

There has been a fourfold rise in seals affected by incidents involving plastic litter, with 28 recorded across England and Wales in 2018 compared to just five in 2015.

Plastic litter is also a particular problem for certain water birds, with incidents involving geese rising from 37 to 70 and swans rising from 40 to 48.

In the South East, incidents where animals have been affected by general litter have decreased, but those of involving plastics have risen by more than one third.