Historically, if you asked a member of the public to describe the English countryside, their response might have depicted images of carefully managed open spaces, an abundance of wildlife, crops and woodland areas.
Fly-tipping contravenes Section 33(1)(a) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and involves illegal depositing of waste on land. Some fly-tipping takes place on public highways or other land or footpaths owned or maintained by the local Council but with farms often being located in isolated areas, they seem to be an ever increasing target.
The Government’s website comments that “serious and organised waste crime is estimated to cost the UK economy £600 million a year”, representing a serious and to some extent avoidable drain on the UK economy. The statistics for 2018-2019 published by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs detail that local authorities in England dealt with one million fly-tipping incidents – an increase of 8% from 2017/2018. It is highly likely that these figures do not accurately reflect the true scale of the problem. We know that many farmers and landowners deal with the issue without notifying the relevant authorities and a large number of incidents therefore go unreported.
When incidents do happen on private land, it is the landowner’s responsibility to remove the rubbish which is costly and time consuming. Many farmers have to manage their land against tight farming budgets and fly-tipping along with putting in place preventative measures adds extra stress and expense to a farmer’s life and business.
Illegal dumping of waste can also have serious consequences for human health, wildlife and livestock as well as risking pollution to watercourses and land contamination.
As expected, the latest Agriculture Bill places a lot of emphasis on enhancing and protecting the environment and on 16 January this year, the Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC) was launched. The unit comprises various law enforcement agencies which will work together to try and tackle this criminal activity with a focus on custodial sentences and hefty fines being given to perpetrators.
What can landowners do to reduce the risk to their land and aid the JUWC going forward?
We suspect that many of our landowning clients already have measures in place. Extra gates, barriers, signage or security cameras may have been installed (hopefully not blocking any public rights of way) and whilst this is often not enough to prevent or deter fly-tippers it is, arguably, better than nothing.
Landowners can also take small steps to make target areas more visible. I say this thinking of an area of farmland near to my home which is constantly having waste dumped on it. The land lies near to the highway but is shielded by a small area of overgrown scrub land. Perhaps if the scrub land was cleared, it would deter fly-tippers from using the area as they would no longer be shielded from passing traffic.
No matter how frustrated a landowner is by this issue, it is important that he/she does not fly-tip waste onto the highway placing him/herself in the firing line of the authorities.
Those affected by fly-tipping should immediately contact the Rural Crime Hotline which is run by Crimestoppers and the NFU or report the incident through the Environment Agency (either by phone or online). Incidents can be reported anonymously.
Waste should be removed/moved as soon as possible following notification to the authorities and using appropriate measures (perhaps in accordance with advice from the relevant authorities) so that other criminals are not encouraged to dump further rubbish in the same area.
Where third parties are contracted to remove the waste, landowners should ensure that a legitimate business is used and ask for sight of that business’ waste carrier licence. Additionally, landowners can check with the Environment Agency that the carrier is registered waste carrier.
Landowners should be aware of potentially contaminated waste and ensure that it is removed appropriately to avoid being the subject of action from the Environment Agency.
Landowners should also check their farm insurance policies to ensure that fly-tipping is appropriately covered for multiple potential incidents.
There is no quick fix to this issue which many landowners are experiencing. However, if landowners take as many precautionary measures as possible and ensure that incidents are notified to the relevant authorities, this will enable those authorities to accurately report the statistics and allow the JUWC to work alongside landowners to bring these waste criminals to justice. Hopefully this will in turn lead to a reduction in the overall number of incidents meaning that farmers can spend their time focussing on what they do best.
Birketts has a team of lawyers who can offer advice on compliance as well as assistance in the event of a prosecution, including attendance at Police and Criminal Evidence Act interviews and advocacy in Court. If you need advice please contact Deborah Sharples or another member of the Environment Team and Regulatory and Corporate Defence Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at March 2020.