Dylan Sharpe: Everyone can help to consign fly-tipping to the dustbin

WE’VE all seen the scourge of fly-tipping. The shopping trolley rusting in the river; the mattress propped-up against a fence-post in a field; the pile of tyres and broken wood left in the corner of a car-park.

Fly-tipping is a constant menace that blights our environment, dragging down the quality of the areas in which we live and endangering wildlife and natural habitats.

It is one of the most common yet most destructive of crimes which, much like the riots, provides a sad insight into how little some people feel they have invested in their local area.

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At the Countryside Alliance, we have long campaigned for government and local councils to make fly-tipping a priority.

In 2007, we launched a national campaign accompanied by an awareness week, intended to harness the quiet anger of people towards those who wilfully sully their local environment.

As part of this campaign we undertook an extensive public consultation to identify the solutions – we asked Parliamentarians, local authorities, the Environment Agency, police forces and a broad range of representatives from the waste industry for their views, so that our recommendations could signpost some ways to tackle this growing epidemic.

We have sat on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) National Fly-tipping Prevention Group for five years and, through a co-ordinated effort by all involved, the menace of fly-tipping is being brought under control.

However there is much still to be done. This month the Countryside Alliance released a report detailing the latest figures on the scale and cost of fly-tipping in England and Wales in 2010-2011.

Through Freedom of Information requests sent to councils across the country, we found that at least 656,000 incidents of unlawful rubbish dumping were recorded in the past 12 months, which works out at 75 incidents of fly-tipping every hour – more than one per minute.

The cost to taxpayers of clearing the waste was just under £25m – over £66,000 per day – yet only one in 50 cases led to a prosecution. The total cost to local authorities of clearing and then enforcing legal and punitive actions was £40,128,197, yet only £692,000 was collected in fines – less than two per cent of the money spent. These figures tell a sorry tale of cash-strapped local authorities desperately fighting against a tidal wave of illegal rubbish dumping.

Although the figures vary, we know that fly-tipping is an especially large problem in the countryside. Among private landowners and farmers there is often a feeling that they are dealing with this costly problem on their own. If waste is dumped on private land, the owner is bound by law to clear it up at their own time and expense.

Defra figures suggest that clearing illegal fly-tipping from private land costs another £40m each year. The impact of fly-tipping also has a huge impact on our natural environment, from damage to our watercourses and underlying soil quality to wildlife being injured from illegally dumped waste.

So what can be done? The coalition Government agreement committed them to “work towards a zero waste economy and encourage councils to pay people to recycle and work to reduce littering”.

The Government’s Waste Review was published in June 2011, but minimal attention was given to tackling the scourge of fly-tipping, and instead the main focus was on household waste.

The Government has said it will consider the current levels of fines and sentencing for fly-tipping, but there was no comprehensive plan to address the serious issue of fly-tipping across the country. In addition, with a rise in landfill tax announced in the budget and more cuts coming down the line to council budgets, this is a problem that is only likely to get worse.

But there is hope. As our report reveals, some councils are better than others at tackling fly-tipping. It is time for local authorities to work together in sharing best practice, resources and intelligence to tackle this blight. The Countryside Alliance also wants to see greater support provided for farmers and private landowners in dealing with illegal rubbish dumping through advice, support and greater use of preventative measures. But the most important change needed affects us all. Many councils now have a dedicated number, website and team ready for any reports of fly-tipping; so it is up to all of us if we see someone breaking the law, to let the authorities know. We all have an interest in keeping our local area clear of unsightly and environmentally dangerous waste. It’s time to step up.

Dylan Sharpe is head of media for the Countryside Alliance.