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Cautious optimism over latest fly-tipping figures

Defra has published its annual set of figures on fly-tipping incidents recorded by local authorities in England and Wales in 2022-23. While the overall number of incidents, 1.08 million, remains higher than the levels seen before the pandemic, it has fallen by 1% from the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of local authority enforcement actions rose by 6% to 536,000. These are positive indicators as to the direction of travel. 

There is, however, cause for concern in the rise in cases of littering on footpaths and bridleways, which rose by 7% to 181,000 cases, and the increase in the number and clearing costs of large fly-tipping incidents. These are defined as incidents of ‘tipper lorry load’ size or larger; they rose by 13% to 42,000 cases, and the total cost of clearing up after them to local authorities alone – not including costs to private landowners – went up by £2.5 million to £13.2 million. These are the only type of fly-tipping incident for which councils are required to report clearing costs. 

The Countryside Alliance is alarmed by the rise in littering on footpaths and bridleways and the impact that is having on the countryside. We have long campaigned on this issue and will be calling on all parties in the run up to the election to take this crime seriously. Tackling all cases of fly-tipping and littering, especially the most damaging, is imperative as Defra’s latest release demonstrates. 

Fly-tipping and littering must not be seen as a victimless crime: it is a scourge on our natural environment and a blight on the farms these criminals still too often target. Farmers and other private landowners who fall victim are required by law to clear their land and bear the costs of doing so, which can be especially ruinous at a time when they are already under pressure from shifts in the agricultural subsidy regime.  

The Countryside Alliance welcomed the Government’s move to allow councils to keep money raised through fines to invest in litter clearing and enforcement, and the increase in the number of enforcement actions suggests it may be having an effect. In July the Government increased the maximum fine for fly-tipping and this too seems to be starting to filter through, with the average court fine having increased from £466 in 2021/22 to £526 in 2022/23. 

Ahead of the Autumn Statement we called for the Government to buttress its fines retention policy by giving councils additional funding for the specific purpose of investigating and prosecuting fly-tipping offences. As we argued at the time, this could act as seed money, stimulating more upfront investigatory activity that could result in higher, re-investable returns from fines. It could also help reduce clear-up costs thanks to the enhanced deterrent effect produced by demonstrating a greater likelihood of waste criminals being caught, prosecuted and punished.

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