Thousands of tons of rubbish is being dumped in some of the UK’s most important green spaces in a growing catastrophe for our natural environment.
The waste, which sometimes includes deadly asbestos, threatens endangered wildlife and blights some of our most treasured beauty spots.
Forests, woodlands, heaths and commons are being repeatedly hit, with organised criminals said to be fuelling the problem.
A review ordered by the Government last year found crooks were cashing in by charging to collect waste – often from building sites – then illegally dumping it to dodge tip charges.
But the Tories have been accused of making things worse, with local authority cutbacks leaving councils struggling to pay for clean-ups.
This week pictures showed how a mile-long stretch of road near Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, had been swamped with discarded rubbish.
And volunteers who clear local green spaces in other parts of the country have shared stories of trashed landscapes. Epping Forest, on the border of Essex and North East London, is being hit with a shocking 300 tons of waste a year.
The Friends of Ashworth Valley, a group of litter-pickers in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, say they once cleared 800 car tyres at a beauty spot.
And another group of volunteers, Clean Our Patch, claim they have cleared away 65 tons of rubbish since March 2018 in Plymouth.
They have worked weekly to clear 6,500 bags of flytipped rubbish from around Plymouth/
Founder El Clarke said: "We pick litter every week across the city, from pavements, hedges, drains and embankments, in parks, woodlands and along our beautiful coast.
"We pick to clean our streets and green spaces and to educate our communities about the damage that single-use plastics and other disposable materials cause to our environment and our communities.
"The worst areas that we have found for this are the wooded areas where the access is limited and there is no possibility of CCTV."
Call to crush flytippers' vehicles
The City of London Corporation, which manages Epping Forest, is fighting hard to protect the 1,728-hectare ancient woodland, much of which is a site of special scientific interest.
The forest is home to 1,000-year-old trees, endangered great crested newts, protected bats and 500 rare insect species.
While household litter is a problem, building site rubbish, cars and asbestos are increasingly being dumped.
This year the authority crushed a van after its owners dumped three tons of waste.
The City has gated some roads and car parks at night to stop people driving in to flytip under cover of darkness in the secluded parts of the forest, which spans London to Essex.
The authority's Epping Forest Committee and Commons chairman Graeme Doshi-Smith said the City of London Corporation has vigorously prosecuted flytippers, with around 70 people ordered to pay about £35k between them over the past five years.
But that pales in comparison to the £320,000 it spends cleaning up their mess every year.
Mr Doshi-Smith said: “Obviously that’s money we’d really rather spend on our natural environment as a charity and on our visitor services.”
'Tory cuts to councils cause flytipping boom'
The clean-up and management bill nationwide is staggering.
The Local Government Association says it stands at £57million a year.
It is demanding the Government urgently funds councils so they can better tackle the problem and to beef up sentencing guidelines.
The maximum one-year-jail terms and £50,000 fines are rarely imposed, it says. The Government had promised a crackdown, but Defra figures show fly-tipping rose nearly 8% in the past year – from 998,000 to 1.07 million.
And the Woodland Trust recently reported spending around £1 million of its charity cash cleaning up flytips over the past five years.
Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman said the Tories must take responsibility: "Unprecedented cuts to local authorities have led to a boom in fly tipping and the neglect of local habitats across our communities."
The Conservative Party did not respond to a request for comment.
The Government has introduced an Environment Bill to Parliament before it broke for the election lead-up that aims to force producers to take more responsibility for the waste they create.
It would also see local authorities directed to offer a more consistent approach to recycling, introduce bottle deposit return schemes and claims it will bring in 'more effective' litter and anti-waste crime enforcement.
However critics say the Government must first properly fund local authorities around the country, which have frustrated Brits with cuts to bin collections and household waste services, with councils introducing tip charges and confusing rules for vehicles dumping rubbish at the facilities.
Meet the have-a-go eco heroes protecting Britain's beautyspots
Volunteers are cleaning up heathland blighted by thoughtless flytippers.
Hartlebury Common in Worcestershire is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and a nature reserve famed for its bee nesting.
But to some, the stretch alongside Stourport on-Severn is just a dumping site. Litter includes old toys, engine oil, mattresses and furniture.
Volunteers the Pickup Artists have pledged to tackle the blight in a project that could take two years. Michelle Medler, of Kidderminster, started the group as a New Year’s resolution.
Now her idea has sprung into a trash-fighting army with more than 1,000 volunteers across Worcestershire.
Karen Blanchfield is leading efforts on the heathland, with help from local conservationists.
Worcestershire County Council has Natural England funding for a 10-year drive to clean up and protect Hartlebury Common.
A spokeswoman said CCTV cameras will be installed and vehicle barriers modified.
Volunteers are dedicating at least two years to cleaning up after years of thoughtless flytippers damaging the heathland.
The Mirror joined litter-pickers as they were confronted with a dismal eyesore.
The heathland has become strewn with debris ranging from old toys, household rubbish, and engine oil, to old mattresses, abandoned furniture, and dead rats that scavenge in the mess.
But the council’s countryside ranger, Martin Barnett, said flytipping is a hard crime to crack as they struggle to prove who did it. He said: “It’s more cost-effective to tidy up than to prosecute.”
The ranger said the wider Worcestershire community tended to blame traveller communities who have lived alongside the common for decades, but said there was clear evidence the wider community was clearly also dumping there.
He said: “It’s historically known as the place to bring your rubbish if you don’t have anywhere else to go. They call it ‘the bumpy track,’ I believe- like ‘take it down the bumpy track.”
Karen said she hoped behaviour will change, adding: “With education, it’s only a matter of time until the worst climate-educated people are going to sit up and take notice.”
'Don't let criminals take your rubbish'
Councils were last year handed new powers to hold ordinary British households to account using fines if flytipped rubbish dumped by these rogue traders can be traced back to them.
However critics say the fixed penalty notices for households don’t get nearly far enough.
Some larger fly-tips were costing the Environment Agency between £10k-£500k to clear, according to a 2018 report into waste crime.
Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton said the situation had reached “catastrophic” levels.
Calling on households and businesses to take “responsibility”, she warned: “We need to stem the supply to criminal fly-tippers.
Keep Britain Tidy is campaigning for households and businesses to vet who they allow to take their waste.
Ms Ogden-Newtown warns if a stranger from Facebook if offering £10 to take away a fridge and doesn't show any paperwork – there is a strong chance your rubbish will wind up dumped in a woodland.
She is urging Brits to respect the country's precious green-spaces: “Even if it’s difficult and even if it costs, it’s your responsibility to get rid of your waste properly.”
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