It’s simply rubbish that we allow so much litter to blight our rural areas – Sarah Todd

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A FARMER has been having problems with fly-tippers; everything from builder’s waste to garden rubbish, along with a substantial selection of old fridges and washing machines. He posts angry messages about it on social media but nothing ever happens. Nobody is ever prosecuted.

Our corner of North Yorkshire has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). At a distance, the rolling hills and stone properties look very picture-postcard. But don’t be fooled. Look a little closer, at the hedge bottoms and grass verges, and there are enough Costa coffee cups, McDonald’s drinks and food containers to rival any area of city centre waste ground. Go around the back of your average urban multiplex cinema and you will be hard-pushed to find as much litter as is strewn along the lanes surrounding many rural villages.

What can be done to combat Britain's litter epidemic?

What can be done to combat Britain's litter epidemic?

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If we’d thrown litter, as children of the 1970s, it would have been considered a cardinal sin. We would have been branded “litter bugs”. Back then, the Keep Britain Tidy campaign kept us on the straight and narrow, with public service information films featuring pop stars telling us to put litter in the bin.

The message just isn’t ‘out there’ like it used to be and, to be fair, how can we expect it to be? There is so much more for people to be engaged in.

Thinking back to my memories of the Tidy Britain Campaign and its ‘tidyman’ logo –the little triangular chap putting some litter into a wire bin – the world was very different. At this time, my late grandparents would spend most Sunday afternoons going for a ‘ride out’ in their car.

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As a farmer, there would doubtless be a field of corn or some livestock that my granddad would have his mind on having a look over somebody’s hedge at. There was no specific destination; just a little drive out. Nowadays people are very definitely getting in their vehicles to travel from A to B.

In a roundabout way – rather like my grandad’s afternoon jaunts – the point is that the countryside isn’t enjoyed as it used to be. ‘Destinations’, like the stately home three miles from where we live, are what people spend their spare time visiting.

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Countryside campaigner Bill Bryson is among those claling for greater action against litter.

Countryside campaigner Bill Bryson is among those claling for greater action against litter.

They look on in awe once they arrive, pay their entrance fee and buy an ice cream. But between their home and arriving at the tourism destination do they give two hoots about the surrounding countryside? Do they look out of the window and marvel or do they put their foot down to get there and think nothing of chucking the children’s sweet papers out of the car window?

It’s all too easy to blame the roadside littering in the countryside on hassled delivery drivers. But is that fair? There are certainly a high number of plastic dog poo bags either hanging in hedges or chucked underneath them. So dog walkers need to shoulder some of the blame. Same with runners and cyclists, as the energy gel sachets and tubes they often use are regular litter-pick finds.

Many would probably answer back that there aren’t any rubbish bins to put them in. Presumably councils have to prioritise and maintaining litter bins in rural areas must fall foul – forgive the bad pun – to those around parks and playgrounds in towns and cities.

Credit must go to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) which has kept banging the drum of litter. Just last week it stepped up its campaign for a Deposit Return Scheme on all bottles, calling on the Government not to cave in to industry resistance and loopholes such as bottle size.

The organisation is supported by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Keep Britain Tidy – the RSPCA receives 7,000 calls a year about litter-related incidents, from badger cubs with plastic can holders embedded in their necks to hedgehogs with their heads wedged in empty tins. “A lot has been written about plastic and rightly so,” says CPRE litter programme director Samantha Harding. “But the risk is people simply shift from using plastic – because they don’t want to be criticised – and use and throw away other packaging instead.”

Harding adds an interesting statistic. Funding for cleaning rural roads and roads other than major highways was cut by £74m between 2010 and 2014. “If someone drops a bottle on a street in a city, someone is paid to pick it up,” she says. “The chances of a bottle in a hedgerow being collected are almost zero.”

Finally, to admit to a slip-up. According to the experts, banana skins and even apple cores are deemed litter; something to be taken home. If we’ve been out and about mine have always gone under a hedge bottom. Guilty as charged...

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist.