A huge turtle weighing quarter of a tonne has been washed up on a British beach - and may now be pickled by the Natural History Museum.

The giant Leatherback - the world's largest turtle - died shortly before it was discovered on a beach in Essex on Wednesday.

Scientists have voiced their surprise at the discovery of the tragic beast, as sightings of the animals are incredibly rare in British waters.

It was discovered in Mundon Creek, just off the River Blackwater near Maylandsea, in Essex.

Braintree and Witham Times:

A coastguard team was called after the tragic discovery on Wednesday (Image: South Woodham Coastguard Rescue Team)

A Coastguard rescue team from South Woodham attended after they were alerted by dog walker Angela Barrett.

A spokesman said: "After arriving at the location, the team liaised with the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) where they arranged to return on Thursday to recover the turtle.

"The recovery team consisted of Coastguards, members of the CSIP, and the adjacent farm owners, who worked together to carefully lift the quarter tonne turtle over the sea wall for transport to the Natural History Museum for examination and possible preservation."

South Woodham Coastguard Station Officer, Andrew Dale, added: "At 1.7m long we have no record of such a sighting on the east coast before."

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Leatherback status is globally listed as vulnerable, but many subpopulations are critically endangered.

They are rarely seen in British waters, although one was spotted paddling around the Rampion Windfarm off the Sussex coast last month.

The endangered turtles are known to travel large distances and migrate across the Pacific and Atlantic.

They are particularly vulnerable to swallowing plastic due to their size, mistaking it for food.

Sightings of leatherback turtles are even more rare due to their behaviour - they generally only tend to come to the surface to breathe, and can hold their breath underwater for several hours at a time.

They also tend to live a solitary existence, coming together only to breed.