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

A survey also revealed that nearly half were unaware that fruit peel and apple cores fall into the litter category.

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

While more than 90 per cent said they had never discarded litter onto the roadside, more than 60 per cent said they had seen someone else do it.

Over the past three years the RSPCA has received more than 10,000 reports of animals found injured, trapped, or dead from discarded litter – almost 10 reports a 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."