Beaches belong to whomever owns the adjoining land to the extent of the Mean High Water mark (MHW). Beaches may be privately owned, therefore, by individual landlords or organisations (for example, the National Trust and the Ministry of Defence), but most beaches are public and belong to local authorities. The responsibility for cleaning beaches falls on the owner, with most, therefore, coming under the responsibility of district and borough councils. 

The area of beach between the MHW and the Mean Low Water mark (MLW) is known as the ‘foreshore’ and may, similarly, be owned by a range of individuals/organisations on the same basis, i.e. owner of the adjacent land. About half such land is actually owned by the Crown Estate. Other owners include the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, local authorities, the RSPB, the National Trust, the Ministry of Defence and private individuals. Beaches and the land beyond the MLW is owned by the Crown and a small area of the seabed is owned by harbour authorities and local authorities. If beaches are leased to third parties, responsibilities may be agreed on a site-by-site basis according to the terms of the lease. 

Some councils have formed partnerships with other bodies (such as Southend Council’s partnership with Veolia Water) in the clearing of litter on the beaches, others hire private contractors to clear litter or simply rely on voluntary litter picking. Natural England and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency are other bodies which may also become involved in cleaning beaches. A number of non-governmental organisations, which form the Marine Litter Action Network (for example, the Marine Conservation Society and Beachwatch UK), engage in litter clearing from beaches. District authorities with a coastline will generally include the beaches in their schedule for street sweeping. 

Some coastal district councils employ a specific role-holder for responsibility for beach related matters. Tendring District Council in Essex, for example, employs a seafronts manager. A particular issue for beaches is the removal of dead marine animals that have washed ashore, with costs increasing as specialist companies are required to remove these. During our research we were told that the removal of a seal carcass, for example, required the use of two persons, which pushed the cost to £350. 


UK legislation that can be applied for the clearance and/or enforcement against littering of beaches is  

  • Environmental Protection Act 1990 
  • Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 
  • Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014
  • Other Legislation . . 2010 Waste (Wales) Measure, 2015 Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, 

Responsibility for Clearance & Enforcement

  • CouncilsSection 89(1) of the EPA 1990 places a duty on certain bodies to ensure that land, for which they are responsible, is, so far as is practicable, kept clear of litter and refuse. There are many bodies listed, including but not limited to County Councils, District and Borough Councils and Parish Councils.   
    • County Councils: Although there is a duty on County Councils in practice, however, District and Borough Councils clear litter from relevant land. 
    • District and Borough Councils: District and Borough Councils clear litter from relevant land which includes beaches. Under s87 of the EPA 1990, district and borough councils are also able to issue FPNs for littering.
    • Parish Councils: Under Section 88(9)(f) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, a parish council is recognised as a ‘litter authority’ which can issue FPNs for littering. In practice, parish councils are unaware that they have the power to issue FPNs. However, under the Environmental Offences (Fixed Penalties) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2007 anyone authorised by a parish council to issue FPNs must have completed a course by a provider approved of by the Secretary of State (typically such courses are provided by the Keep Britain Tidy Network).
  • Private Landowners: There are few duties on private landowners to clear litter from beaches unless there are restrictive covenants on the land. If a private property allows a build-up of litter to such an extent that it is undesirable or a health hazard to others a Community Protection Warning or Notice can be issued under the Anti-Social Crime and Policing Act 2014
  • Maritime and Coast Guard AgencyThere is no apparent legislation placing a duty on the Marine and Coast Guard Agency to clear litter from the beach.
  • Environment Agency: The Environment Agency has responsibility for water quality and flooding but doesn’t have any duty to keep beaches clear of litter or enforce against littering.  
  • Volunteers; there is no legal obligation on volunteers to clear litter and they don’t have any enforcement powers. With the growth in awareness of marine pollution many people volunteer whether as individuals or in groups to litter pick beaches. It is a relatively safe activity. 
Two CPRE local group members picking litter at a CPRE event
Back to Litter on Land
Volunteers on litter pick walking away from camera with sacks of litter
Redress for members of the public
A young woman looks to the camera as she holds a litter picker and rubbish bag
Read the full report