SCOTTISH beaches have become UK hotspots for pollution by tiny pieces of plastic, that are harming marine life and could be a health risk.

Searches of 88 shorelines across Scotland found that over two out of three were littered with the lentil-sized pellets known as 'nurdles'.

And the Firth of Forth has seen the highest concentration of the lentil-sized fragments, which measure less than a millimetre across, and are used as a raw material in the manufacturing industry to make new plastic products.

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Kinneil beach, Boness

But many of the pellets escape, spilling out of factories or cargo into the water.

Across the UK, in early February, hundreds of volunteers searched some 270 shorelines from Shetland to the Scilly Isles with 73 per cent found with the industrial pellets, which are also found in fish, mussels, oysters and other shellfish. They have been mistaken for food and are found regularly in the stomachs of seabirds, affecting their digestion.

The largest number recorded in the latest Great Winter Nurdle Hunt weekend in early February were found at Widemouth Bay, Cornwall, where 33 volunteers collected around 127,500 pellets on a 100-metre stretch of beach.

But according to Scottish environmental charity Fidra beaches around the Firth of Forth have become a UK-wide hotspot for the marine pollution in recent years, with Limekilns beach near Dunfermline a particular concern. High concentrations of the pellets, also known as 'mermaid tears' are also found in the F‏irth of Clyde.

During the latest hunt, volunteers gather 3000 of the nurdles in 30 minutes on the Fife beach with thousands of of others spotted in the sand and rocks.

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Limekilns beach 'nurdles'

Madeleine Berg, projects officer at Fidra said it was assumed the reason for the concentration of pellets the Firth of Forth and Clyde was that it is an area where there is a concentration of industry and many companies have been making, using and transporting the pellets over a number of years.

She said: "This is a hidden part of our use of plastics, that people don't tend to know about, and the fact it ends up on our beaches is really surprising. There is evidence of harm to marine life and the potential to get into the food chain and affect our health. "The information we've gathered will be vital to show the UK Government that pellets are found on beaches all around the UK.

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

Fidra has been working with the UK plastics industry for five years to try to promote best practice to end further pellet pollution.

Manufacturers can sign up to Operation Clean Sweep, an industry initiative to ensure nurdles are handled more carefully, but it is a voluntary programme.

But Ms Berg said: "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."

In 2012, 150 tonnes of nurdles leaked from shipping containers into the sea around Hong Kong.

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The pellets swamped beaches and clogged up grass. Some of the pellets were found in the guts of fish and so locals became reluctant to eat seafood.

Researchers from the University of Ghent in Belgium found in January that seafood eaters are absorbing the plastic into their bloodstream with unknown effects on health.

Scientists say that 99 per cent of the microplastics pass through the human body - but the rest are taken up by body tissues.

It is believed Europeans currently consume up to 11,000 pieces of plastic in their food each year. According to unpublished studies, fewer than 60 of these are likely to be absorbed - but they will accumulate in the body over time.

But there have been warnings that the amount of plastic absorbed from our food will increase as plastic pollution in the ocean gets worse.

Dr Colin Janssen, who led the research, said the presence of plastic particles in the body was "a concern".