With Keep Wales Tidy's Autumn Clean Cymru underway, the RSPCA is urging members of the public to "snip the straps" from used disposable face masks.

The call comes as new figures are published highlighting the impact litter has had on animals since the start of lockdown - with RSPCA Cymru dealing with 35 incidents across the country since lockdown was first announced on March 23.

Dumped face masks have become a new hazard to wildlife since the pandemic started. The advice to snip the straps before masks are binned is given as new rules come into force in Wales stating that people must wear face masks in shops and other indoor public spaces, unless they have particular health conditions or are children under the age of 12.

A gull was recently found with a face mask wrapped tightly around his legs. Despite the face mask causing swelling to his legs, the bird has now fully recovered - but RSPCA Cymru hopes their "snip the straps" message will stop similar incidents taking place.

The message comes as the RSPCA backs Keep Wales Tidy’s Autumn Clean Cymru, which runs until 27 September.

Chris Sherwood, the RSPCA’s chief executive, said: “For many years the public have been aware of the message to cut up plastic six-pack rings before throwing them away to stop animals getting tangled in them, and now we are keen to get out the message that the same should be done for face masks too - as very sadly, animals are susceptible to getting tangled up in them.

“Now that face masks are increasingly the norm, and are compulsory in shops and indoor public spaces in Wales, our snip the straps message is more important than ever as thousands of these masks are being thrown away every day. We’re concerned discarded face masks could become a significant hazard, particularly to wild animals and birds.

“Our RSPCA officers have had to rescue animals from getting tangled in face masks and we expect incidents may go up as time goes on, so the best thing to do is to simply cut the elastic ear straps in half before throwing it away.”

The RSPCA’s top tips to protect wildlife from litter:

• Recycle and reuse as much as possible - and put everything else in the bin;

• Cut the loop handles of plastic carrier bags before recycling to prevent animals being tangled;

• Cut plastic can holders and elastic bands so animals can’t get caught up;

• Cut up balloons before putting them in the bin;

• Cut up disposable gloves and snip the straps on face masks to prevent animals getting tangled;

• Clean and empty containers after use and pinch cans shut or cut containers in half before recycling.