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Tim Bonner: A perfect storm of rubbish in the countryside

The most depressing element of the lifting of restrictions on travel and leisure in the English countryside has been the disregard that a minority of visitors have shown to basic standards of behaviour and especially the dropping of litter. Photos of beaches, car parks and other rural honeypots strewn with rubbish have been challenging even for those of us who are keenest to ensure that everyone can enjoy the countryside. Add to this the spike in fly-tipping during the lockdown when gardening and home improvement became a national obsession, but waste disposal facilities remained closed, and COVID has created a perfect storm of littering and rubbish in rural areas.

I know that there are few things that annoy you as much as mindless littering and our supporters have always been keen to take practical steps to clean up their part of the countryside. We had to cancel our annual Countryside Clean-up campaign in March as the lockdown had started, but in response to the current litter crisis we will now be asking you to take part in dedicated litter picking sessions on the 19th and 20th September. In previous years you have cleaned up miles of roadside verges, footpaths and open spaces and I am sure the same will be true this September.

Relying on one part of the community to clear up after another is not, however, a satisfactory solution to littering and fly-tipping and there are other routes to tackling this scourge.

Our colleagues at the CLA have written to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson asking him to put the Countryside Code on the National Curriculum to ensure everyone who visits the countryside understands their responsibilities, not just for taking their rubbish home, but also for closing gates, parking responsibly, keeping dogs under control and all the other basic good behaviour that we understand, but others might not. The Alliance fully endorses the CLA's campaign and believe that better education could lead to a long-term reduction in littering and other anti-social behaviour in the countryside.

Meanwhile, we have written to the Environment Minister, Lord Goldsmith, who was asked a question in the House of Lords on the unique situation that farmers and landowners find themselves in if they are victims of fly-tipping where they can be fined, and have to bear the cost of removing the illegally fly-tipped material. His answer bordered on the dismissive: "Making landowners responsible for clearing fly-tipped waste ensures that there is no perverse incentive to dump waste and encourages them to take measures to prevent dumping on their land". He also claimed that costs order can be made by courts so that a landowner's costs can be recovered when the perpetrators of fly-tipping are convicted. This is true, but what he forgot to mention was that only one in 600 incidents of fly-tipping even leads to prosecution, which means that in at least 599 instances out of 600, victims cannot recover the costs of disposing of waste dumped illegally on their land.

We have pointed out to Lord Goldsmith that the principle that potential victims of crime should be threatened with fines unless they take action to deter criminals is not one that is found anywhere else in the criminal justice system. We also suggested that the reason fly-tipping has become so prevalent (with an 8% increase last year alone) is exactly because there are more penalties against the landowner than the perpetrator.

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