During a visit to North Devon environment ministerThérèse Coffey MP talked Marine Conservation Zones at Saunton and dropped in on a beach clean at Croyde

The Government's environment minister turned out at Croyde today (Thursday) to help out at a beach clean.

Thérèse Coffey MP offered a helping hand to Surfers Against Sewage's Big Spring Beach Clean - an annual event to clean up beaches nationwide and encourage more single-use plastic to be recycled.

She joined SAS staff and volunteers plus Croyde beach ranger Rose Roberts to do a bit of sand sieving to find 'nerdles', tiny plastic balls that are polluting oceans in their millions.

She said: "I'm really pleased to see communities from across Devon coming together for such a great cause. Our beaches are enjoyed by millions of people around the country and we all have a role to play in keeping them clean and litter-free.

Environment minister Thérèse Coffey does a bit of sand sieving for 'nerdles' with Hugo Tagholm and Dom Ferris of Surfers Against Sewage, joined by beach ranger Rose Roberts and the Parkdeam mascot Sid the Seagull. Picture: Tony GussinEnvironment minister Thérèse Coffey does a bit of sand sieving for 'nerdles' with Hugo Tagholm and Dom Ferris of Surfers Against Sewage, joined by beach ranger Rose Roberts and the Parkdeam mascot Sid the Seagull. Picture: Tony Gussin

"Not only is this event helping to improve our beaches and protect our wildlife, it's encouraging people to reuse and recycle plastic wherever they can. The introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge was a great step forward and we remain committed to being the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it."

Earlier the minister visited Clovelly and Saunton as well as Petroc in Barnstaple to talk about rural education and skills.

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, added: "We're delighted to welcome the environment minister to the Big Spring Beach Clean to help in our effort to tackle marine plastic pollution and inspire more action to reduce society's collective plastic footprint on the environment.

"We look forward to seeing the Government's upcoming Litter Strategy and hope it will build on successful measures like the plastic bag charge. We'll be recycling over 50,000 plastic bottles through the Big Spring Beach Clean and it would be fantastic to see new measures to help reduce the number we see around our coastline."

Ms Coffey said she had 'learned some new things' during her visit and added that South West beaches in particular were faced with a number of challenges such as pollution, but she said: "But here we are with a bunch of people who are passionate about keeping these beaches clean. Surfers Against Sewage have been really proactive with this in trying to take direct action. It's good to work with organisations that are trying to solve the problems."

The Government says since the introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge, more than six billion bags have been taken out of circulation, reducing the number of bags found on beaches by nearly half.

It will shortly be publishing a new Litter Strategy, which will include a range of measures to reduce litter and drive behaviour change.

During her trip to the South West, Minister Coffey also visited Saunton Sands beach to look at possible areas for the third tranche of the Government's Marine Conservation Zones to protect important species and marine habitats around our coast.

Government has already protected nearly 8,000 square miles of important marine habitats, with the total number of MCZs in waters around England now 50.