AS images of tonnes of plastic waste washed up on Cornish beaches by Storm Eleanor hit the headlines this week, the government has launched its 25 year environment plan to eliminate avoidable waste.

Introducing new safeguards for wildlife and connecting more children with nature are among, what the Government calls, ambitious plans for a greener future outlined by Prime Minister Theresa May and Environment Secretary Michael Gove today.

The 25 Year Environment Plan sets out how the government will improve the environment over a generation by creating richer habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality and curbing the scourge of plastic in the world’s oceans.

“A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment” sets out how over the next quarter of a century the government will

- crackdown on plastics by eliminating all avoidable plastic waste through extending the 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers, removing consumer single use plastics from the government estate, supporting the water industry to significantly increase water fountains and working with retailers on introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles.

- help wildlife thrive by creating 500,000 hectares of new habitat for endangered species, supporting farmers to turn fields into meadows and other habitats, replenishing depleted soils and providing £5.7 million to kick-start a new Northern Forest

- be a world leader in environmental protection by investigating the feasibility of an anti-poaching taskforce to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, committing overseas aid to help developing nations combat plastic waste, and extending the UK’s network of marine protected areas

- deliver a Green Brexit by consulting on a new environmental watchdog to hold government to account for environmental standards, and setting out a new approach to agriculture and fisheries management

- seek to embed a ‘net environmental gain’ principle so development delivers environmental improvements locally and nationally, enabling housing development without increasing overall burdens on developers

- connect people with nature by creating ‘nature friendly schools’ and reviewing National Parks to see how they can improve and whether the network should be extended.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: "Respecting nature’s intrinsic value and making sure we are wise stewards of our natural world is critical if we are to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it."

But environmental action charity Surfers Against Sewage said that the Government must take action now rather than over 25 years.

The chief executive of SOS Hugo Tagholm said: “Whilst we welcome the Prime Minister’s pledge to deliver plastic free coastlines, 25 years is not a fast enough timeframe to tackle the immediate plastic pollution crisis or stop the torrent of plastics choking our oceans.

"Over the next 25 years, we estimate over 300 million tonnes of plastic pollution will enter the oceans at current rates, let alone with predicted and dramatic increases in plastic production.

"The government must act immediately to introduce even more ambitious legislation to drive manufacturers away from their love affair with single-use plastics and create a new, truly sustainable products and packaging. The extension of the plastic bag charge and microbead bans are a good start but our oceans need much more.

"The UK is crying out for a bottle refund system to prevent plastic bottle pollution in our streets, countryside and oceans. Millions of plastic bottles pollute are currently pollution our oceans every year.

"The Government has the power to legislate for this immediately, alongside other legislation to drive business investment in plastic free products and systems, and more effective domestic recycling infrastructure.“