Somewhere, down a nice country lane in a beautiful county of Britain is a pile of rubbish, dumped carelessly on the side of the road, likely blocking a farmer’s gate, possibly actually dumped in his field.
Fly-tipping is a menace to rural Britain. It regularly comes up when I chat to farmers and was one of the questions from the floor put to Defra Secretary Andrea leadsom MP at the national farmers Union conference just two days ago: what will she do to help the issue?
The farmer in question, from Essex, quoted 160, 20-tonne Lorry loads dumped in his area since September. The Secretary of State said it remained a problem for local councils and the Environment Agency to catch and enforce perpetrators and they were looking at what more can be done as part of the National Litter Strategy.
I didn’t know we had one, or one being worked on. A quick web search on it didn’t give up much information. It was announced in December 2015, by the then Environment Minister Rory Stewart.
Around June 2016, during a parliamentary session, he was asked when this would be released. The answer, as soon as we can.
So I put a call into Defra’s press office. All they can say is it will be announced in due course and there will be press on it.
“This year,” I ask, hopefully?
“Yeah, I should expect so.”
So there you have it: hopefully later this year a strategy will be released that promises to “liberate the country from trash”.
Ignoring the fact I always thought I put the rubbish out every Sunday evening, not trash, I too am looking forward to Liberation Day.
Every week where I live there is a dump of something: fridge, mattress, sofa, an old bathroom, wooden fence with nails sticking out to catch your tyres… once there was a black bag full of rubbish dumped every 20 yards along about a mile of road. Twice in a week a road was blocked after someone clearly stopped, dumped and drove.
One time my neighbour caught a culprit red handed, he blocked him in the little field entrance with his car, summoned help from the other neighbours via WhatsApp, they called the police, the wife was in the bushes taking pictures for evidence… it’s been just under a year but as far as we know no-one has gone to court.
Another time neighbours tipped off the Council and they managed to find evidence and fine the culprit. It was a local business and because he admitted it and it was such a small dump he paid £200, reduced from £300 for a prompt payment.
Then there’s the gateway named by one local resident as condom gateway. The less said the better, and more fly-zipping than fly-tipping. However, you get the picture. Though if you follow my blog you may well be a rural resident and you know the picture first hand.
No harm in a photo just to make sure.
Social media plays an important part for farmers. Just last week a farmer described how he was on two WhatsApp groups that buzz every night with the same vehicles coming up frequently. Our local farmer passes information onto me and my neighbours via social media so we too can keep an eye out for offending vehicles passing by, ready to take a snap if we can.
Which brings us on to evidence. You can’t punish the offenders if you haven’t collected evidence, and that’s hard to come by.
Last year The Woodland Trust had it’s worst year ever for fly-tipping. BAD. For the first time in 44 years they were able to track down an offender and take him to court. GOOD (sort of). For dumping a coffee table, mattress, bed frame and children’s playhouse he was fined £200. UGLY?
It cost The Woodland Trust £162,000 to clear up the fly-tips and littering on their 1000 sites in 2016, which is the equivalent of them being able to plant 125 football pitches of trees.
They haven’t installed cameras because they are costly and get vandalised. Some of my neighbours have installed their own cameras up and down the lane in a bid to help the council prosecute. But whilst that may make our local area less attractive to offenders I suspect a balloon effect will happen and the dumps will be abandoned elsewhere.
Farmers and rural residents need Liberation Day. Local strategies won’t solve the big picture. Fly-tipping sits under Defra and the Department for Communities and Local Government ( DCLG): is it a local issue or a national issue? Council budgets are being pushed and pulled in all directions.
What will solve it? Suggestions via twitter say bigger fines, return to free tips, longer opening hours, reduced fees for businesses to dump.
Back in May 2016 new powers were introduced for on the spot fines of up to £400 if caught in the act. Have they worked? We’ll find out when the new fly-tipping figures are release on March 2nd. Defra press office told me that was very unlikely to change.
But just the other day another farmer said to me, “it’s what they represent as much as what they’re doing.” And that makes it all the harder to crack. It’s about education and respect and no amount of increased opening hours or fines will teach that.