THOUSANDS of hidden micro plastic pollutants have been found washed up on the region’s beaches.

The lentil-sized pellets known as ‘nurdles’ are used as a raw material by industry to make new plastic products.

Earlier this month more than 600 volunteers from across the UK took part in the Great Winter Nurdle Hunt organised by Scottish environmental charity Fidra in collaboration with the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna and Flora International, Greenpeace, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage.

Searches of the coastline took place in and around Saltburn, in east Cleveland, with volunteers recording more than a thousand nurdles in half an hour in one location.

The finds coincided with a high tide and tidal surge. Plastic cotton bud sticks were also found.

Fidra said up to a thousand nurdles were also found on the beach at Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, in front of sand dunes, in a search lasting an hour and-a-half.

Further down the coast, in Whitby, North Yorkshire, an undisclosed number of hunters found 50 to 100 nurdles in half-an-hour.

Of 279 shorelines searched, from Shetland to the Scilly Isles, 205 sites had the industrial pellets on them.

They can escape into the environment throughout their manufacture, transport or use, being spilt into rivers and oceans or getting into drains where they are washed out to sea.

Nurdles can cause damage to wildlife, such as birds and fish which eat them, as they soak up chemical pollutants from their surroundings and then release the toxins into the creatures that eat them.

Hartlepool councillor Paul Thompson, whose ward covers Seaton Carew, said: “Something like this is part of a bigger problem.

“We have had lots of beach cleaning days at Seaton and the problem is you are not going to always pick up something as small as a micro pellet.

“What we do need to do is encourage our visitors to take their rubbish home with them and dispose of it properly.

“Seaton borders on a site of special scientific interest [Teesmouth] and is a growing hub in terms of lots of natural wildlife, particularly birds, and we need to do what we can to protect it.”

The Government has been consulting over micro plastics, which include micro beads found in cosmetic products, with a view to seeing what changes can be made to tackle the problem.

The data from the Great Winter Nurdle Hunt will be fed into the consultation, which runs until the end of the month.

Madeleine Berg, projects officer at Fidra, said: "The information we've gathered will be vital to show the UK Government that pellets are found on beaches all around the UK and, importantly, that so many people care about the issue.

"Simple precautionary measures can help spillages and ensure nurdles don't end up in our environment.

"We are asking the UK Government to ensure best practice is in place along the full plastic supply chain, and any further nurdle pollution is stopped."