Road users implored to stop littering as deadly impact on wildlife is revealed


12 February 2024

Press Release

Road users implored to stop littering as deadly impact on wildlife is revealed

National Highways and partners have teamed up in a new campaign to urge road users: ‘Lend a paw – bin your litter’ as the RSPCA reveals it has received over 10,000 reports of animals found injured, trapped or dead from discarded litter in last 3 years – nearly 10 per day.

Almost half of the people who took part in a new study were unaware that fruit peel and apple cores – which lure wildlife to their death – count as litter, research by National Highways has revealed.

The study, unveiled today as National Highways launches a new campaign, offers an eye-opening insight into road users’ confusion about the link between littering and wildlife, with many oblivious to the fact that discarded rubbish and fruit can attract animals, with often deadly consequences.

The campaign, which is supported by the RSPCA and Keep Britain Tidy, kicks off with a simple plea: ‘Lend a paw – bin your litter’.

A key finding from focus groups with drivers who admit to littering is that many don’t regard biodegradable food as litter. And a survey revealed that nearly half were unaware that fruit peel and apple cores – which lure animals into often fatal situations – fall into the litter category.

Almost a third of the survey participants thought dropping organic waste like an apple core or leftover food on the road was beneficial to wildlife, while around a third weren’t sure or didn’t know.

And while more than 90% said they had never discarded litter onto the roadside, over 60% said they had seen someone else doing it.

Over the last three years the RSPCA has received more than 10,000 reports of animals found injured, trapped or dead from discarded litter – that's nearly 10 reports every day.

As part of a long-term effort to rid the roadsides and motorway service areas of rubbish, National Highways has run a trial using AI-enabled cameras in conjunction with a local authority that is carrying out enforcement.

National Highways has also trialled message signs to reduce motorway littering, used geofencing to send texts to motorists entering laybys where littering is an issue to prompt them to take their litter home, and will be taking part in the upcoming Great British Spring Clean for the ninth year running.

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said:

“Littering is a dreadful social problem. It’s not just unsightly, it can have a deadly impact on wildlife, turning verges into lethal roadside restaurants.

“We’re working hard to tackle it on our roads, with our people litter-picking every day. To keep them safe we have to close motorway lanes, which delays drivers and costs millions of pounds.

“But if people don’t drop litter in the first place it wouldn’t need to be picked up – so we urge road users to take their litter home.”

RSPCA lead wildlife officer Geoff Edmond said:

“We welcome National Highways’ campaign to raise awareness about the dangers wildlife faces from litter discarded by the roadside.

“Our rescuers deal with thousands of incidents every year where animals have been impacted by litter. Old drinks cans and bottles, plastic items and even disposable vapes are just some of the items that pose a danger to our wildlife including hedgehogs, squirrels, deer and foxes. Animals can ingest the litter, become trapped in it or be attracted to old food on the roadside which puts them in danger of moving vehicles.

“Sadly, for every animal we’re able to help there are probably many others that go unseen, unreported and may even lose their lives.

“But it’s really easy for the public to help. When people are out on the roads, we urge them to hold on to their litter until there is an opportunity to dispose of it safely and responsibly - or recycle where appropriate. As we all strive to create a better world for every animal, this could save an animal’s life."

Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, chief executive of environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy, said:

“Our roads are a graveyard for small mammals and other wildlife that is attracted to the littered food and drinks that drivers illegally chuck out of their vehicles.

“We are pleased to see National Highways launch this long-awaited campaign aimed squarely at getting motorists to do the right thing, bin their rubbish and protect these precious, highly biodiverse areas where so many animals live.”

Keep Britain Tidy research in 2018 found that up to three million animals per year died on the roadside, trapped in litter such as bottles and cans. They included birds, small mammals and larger animals such as badgers and deer. The increase in vehicles on the road network since that study was carried out means the number of animals killed by litter could now be higher.

National Highways complies with its duties under the Environmental Protection Act and is responsible for collecting litter from England’s motorways and a small number of A-roads. It works closely with partners, including local authorities, who collect litter on most of the country’s A-roads.

The new campaign will feature on radio adverts, roadside billboards, posters at motorway service areas and petrol stations, and on social media.



Notes to Editors

Watch here the devastating consequences for wildlife caused by roadside litter.

Interviews with National Highways and RSPCA spokespeople during a visit to the RSPCA wildlife centre in East Winch can be seen here:

Access RSPCA images of animals injured by wildlife here

More information here including how to report litter on the motorway and major A-road network.

National Highways surveyed 2,000 people in January 2024. Here is a summary of the findings:

  • 93% said they had never discarded litter onto the roadside of an A-road or motorway but 63% said they had seen someone else discarding litter onto the roadside of an A-road or motorway
  • When asked specifically about dropping organic waste like an apple core or leftover food, 17% said they had done this, highlighting that a proportion didn’t consider dropping organic waste when thinking about general littering behaviours.
  • 31% agreed that dropping organic waste like an apple core or leftover food onto the road is beneficial to wildlife, 36% disagreed, 33% weren’t sure/didn’t know
  • 22% agreed that dropping organic waste like an apple core or leftover food onto the road is good for the environment, 45% disagreed, 33% weren’t sure/didn’t know
  • 55% think that fruit peel or core counts as litter if it were dropped on the roadside of an A-road or motorway (so 45% don’t think it’s litter). They were most likely to think that plastic water bottles (86%), plastic bags (85%), takeaway coffee cups (85%), takeaway food containers (85%) count as litter, but actually all the ideas presented to them (bar fruit peel or core) were selected by 8 in 10 or more of respondents.

National Highways is the wholly government-owned company responsible for modernising, maintaining and operating England’s motorways and major A roads.

Real-time traffic information for England’s motorways and major A roads is available via its website (, local and national radio travel bulletins, electronic road signs and mobile apps. Local Twitter services are also available at

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