ON the first good day of spring last weekend, Swaledale looked absolutely stunning, with little lambs in cute blue coats gambolling in the meadows and the most thrillingly cold crystal clear water streaming down the daleside.

In the bottoms at Reeth, I jumped into the river shallows for a splash in my boots. My foot caught on something unusually dark, so I braved the temperature, put my hand in and pulled.

And pulled.

I came out with a piece of thick black plastic nearly a metre square. I should really have taken it home, but I didn’t fancy traipsing round with someone else’s sodden stuff in my pocket, so I rolled it up and popped it onto a hole in a drystone wall.

This week, Spanish scientists have released the results of an autopsy they’ve carried out on the body of a young sperm whale washed up on a beach in Murcia in February. The 33ft-long mammal had 64lbs (29kg) of plastic in its stomach – dozens of plastic bags, a large plastic water container, lengths of plastic rope. It had so much plastic that its digestive system could not cope and, severely weakened, it had died of an infection.

As we walked on in Swaledale, along one of the most popular riverside paths in the dale, we saw a farmyard where great lengths of the thick black plastic used to wrap up the silage bales had been churned into the deepest mud by the hooves of animals and the tyres of vehicles. Bits of the plastic had broken off – as we walked by, a slight breeze picked up and wrapped a piece around the legs of a sheep.

This month, the Government has introduced tougher fines for motorists who litter. The owner of the car is now liable for the rubbish tossed out of the window, rather than the authorities having to prove the identity of the individual thrower. The car owner could be fined on-the-spot up to £150.

I cycle on the A167 between Darlington and Northallerton. At the low speeds that I go, the huge number of discarded plastic bottles caught up in the hedges is clearly visible. Southbound seems worse than northbound, and there’s a stretch before you reach Great Smeaton that seems especially bad – I guess this distance from Darlington represents the average time that it takes for the contents of an average bottle to be drunk and for the worthless plastic shell to be tossed out of the vehicle.

Even with the increased fines, will any council have the manpower to have a litter inspector lying in wait for a lout?

The Swaledale experience reminded me that a fortnight ago we’d been out in Teesdale, up near a reservoir. We’d encountered a barky dog guarding a farmyard that was covered in black plastic silage wrappings. The daffodils were doing their best to pierce up through the covering, and the bare branches of two trees were festooned with black plastic drapings, like the ugliest Christmas decorations.

It is right that you can be fined for throwing your plastic bottles out of a car as you travel between towns, but you should also be fined for allowing your black silage wrappings to blow across the dales into the rivers.