THEY used to be a feature of Bournemouth’s street scene, standing on their pitch, chatting to customers or calling out their wares.

But look around and you’ll see that almost all of the town centre’s Big Issue sellers appear to have disappeared.

And it appears that begging - now a major issue in the town centre - is to blame.

The number of people selling the magazine in Bournemouth town centre has plummeted from five or six only a few years ago to, on many occasions, none.

When the Bournemouth Echo checked earlier this week we could only find one vendor at his regular pitch at the Triangle.

Another vendor told the Daily Echo recently that in his opinion “almost all” of the people he had seen begging in Bournemouth town centre were not rough sleepers.

“From what I’ve seen they have places to go to, unlike the people who are sleeping rough,” he said.

Area Services Manager at The Big Issue Foundation, Simon Chilcott, admitted that Big Issue vendor numbers had fallen in the local area.

“We recognise that our vendors are working in a much more challenging environment, where is it often the case that people can earn significantly more when begging, compared to selling the magazine," he said.

“We exist to offer those living in poverty an alternative and legitimate means by which to earn an income. Vendors are micro-business people, independently managing their work and developing sales and financial skills along the way."

He stressed that Big Issue vendors, who buy every copy of the magazine upfront for £1.25 and sell it on for 50 per cent profit, at £2.50, are 'working not begging'.

“We have outreach teams who go out daily to support our vendors and to persuade those begging to take up the opportunity to earn a legitimate income,” he said.

The news comes as Bournemouth is in the grip of a debate centring around the issue of begging in the town centre.

Earlier this week, Tony Brown, the chief executive of Beales, voiced his concern about aggressive begging at a Daily Echo-backed breakfast meeting on the future of the high street. "We see them getting into cars after the end of the day’s begging," he said.