The MCS says that environment department DEFRA's 25-year plan, announced last week, “lacks ambition, urgency and coherence”.

PM Theresa May described the report "A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment" as outlining DEFRA's "strong ambitions", but the MCS has countered that an opportunity has been missed to tackle the many threats facing the marine environment.

Public statements by ministers in the run-up to the report had promised much action to deal with ocean plastic pollution, said the MCS, yet committing to achieve zero avoidable plastic waste by 2043 failed to reflect the urgency of the situation.

The Government had missed quick and easy opportunities called for in recent Environment Audit Committee reports, such as a deposit-return scheme on plastic bottles and other containers, according to the MCS.

It felt that while May had made much of the success of carrier-bag charges in England, the report had committed only to a voluntary approach to implement it in smaller shops.

"We welcome the overall aims of the plan outlining DEFRA's priorities for the next 25 years,” said MCS Head of Programmes Dr Chris Tuckett.

“However, most of the commitments given have, in truth, been announced previously. We had expected more ambition in the department's intentions, especially in tackling pollution, and in ensuring that environment laws are strengthened post-Brexit.

“We urgently need to see much more done to stop the tide of plastic entering our oceans, and an aspiration to eliminate 'avoidable' plastic waste by 2043 is just not sufficient. In particular, deposit-return schemes on containers, and levies on items such as coffee cups, bans on plastic straws are all simple things that could be done immediately without the need for prolonged consultation.

“Our beach survey data has shown a shocking rise in the amount of litter in our oceans and we urgently need to tackle single-use plastic as a first step.

"There is also work to do, very quickly, to apply environmental laws strongly post-Brexit and to implement management measures to protect our seas. Consultation this year on conservation zones for English seas is welcome, but this network will need to be backed up by management measures that have been largely left out for such sites to date.

“If the government wants our seas to be in better condition for the next generation, then they must fast-track management of these largely unprotected areas."

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