What to do if you’re a victim of… fly-tipping

Farmers and landowners are plagued by fly-tipping and there is widespread anger and frustration that existing laws do not go far enough in supporting victims.

Fly-tipping incidents in England have risen by nearly 40% in the past five years, according to official council figures.

Councils recorded 997,553 incidents of illegal dumping in 2017-18 – or 2,700 a day – with clean-up costs in excess of £50m.

See also: Revealed – the burden of fly-tipping on farms

Significantly, these figures do not include incidents of dumping on private land and there is widespread under-reporting.

By some estimates, the true costs of this crime are much greater, between £100m and £150m each year.


The law

Fly-tipping is the only crime where the victims (private landowners) have a legal responsibility to dispose of the waste.

Under current legislation, landowners can be prosecuted if they fail to remove fly-tipped waste quickly enough.

The government has come under pressure from rural and farming organisations including the NFU, the CLA, the Tenant Farmers Association and the Countryside Alliance to change the rules on fly-tipping, which they say unfairly punish farmers.

The CLA is urging Defra to pilot a ticketing system which would allow private landowners to remove waste dumped on their land and take it to a local council tip free of charge.

But Defra says that placing the legal obligation on councils to remove illegal waste dumped on private land would only encourage more illegal dumping.

Penalties for fly-tipping

Defra says tackling fly-tipping “remains a priority”. It has strengthened local authorities’ enforcement powers through fixed-penalty notices and by making it easier for vehicles suspected of being used for fly-tipping to be stopped, searched and seized.

Householders whose waste ends up being fly-tipped face fines of up to £400.

The government introduced new sentencing guidelines in 2014, with a maximum £50,000 fine or 12 months in prison for offenders, if dealt with by a Magistrates’ court.

If a case is referred to a Crown court, the maximum penalty is imprisonment for up to five years, or a potentially unlimited fine.

But with only one in 600 incidents of fly-tipping leading to a prosecution and the most common punishment being a penalty of less than £430, the CLA says this is “simply not good enough” – especially when the average cost to clean up an incident is £800.

What to do if it happens to you

Fly-tipping is illegal waste crime. If you see a fly-tipping incident in progress, call 999 immediately.

Do not approach the offenders, but note down how many people are involved, their descriptions and information about any vehicles being used, including the makes, colours, and registration numbers. If it is safe, take photographs.

Farmers can also use the NFU’s Rural Crime Reporting Line, in partnership with Crimestoppers, to provide information about fly-tipping by calling 0800 783 0137 or visiting the dedicated website.

The National Fly-tipping Prevention Group (NFTPG) recommends the following steps if you find waste dumped on your land.

  1. Exercise caution. Some fly-tipped waste can be hazardous. Do not open bags or drums and be aware that piles of soil may be contaminated or hide dangerous material.
  2. Record as many details as possible about the waste and when you found it. If possible take a photograph of the waste.
  3. Report the incident – do not move the waste or remove any evidence from it until the authorities have been notified.
  4. Secure the waste so that it cannot be interfered with or added to.
  5. Remember that fly-tippers are doing something illegal – they are unlikely to welcome people observing them. Do not put yourself at risk – if fly-tipping is in progress, call 999.
  6. When arranging for disposal, ensure that you use a registered waste carrier, as if it is dumped elsewhere you could be held responsible and face an unlimited fine.
  7. Ensure that you get documentation which includes the details of the waste and who is taking it away.
  8. If you take the waste to a licensed waste site yourself, make sure you are registered as a waste carrier.
  9. If the waste is hazardous then make sure that it is being carried and disposed of by those licensed to deal with hazardous waste.
  10. Keep full details of your clearance and disposal costs. Successful prosecution can mean that your costs incurred for the removal of the waste can also be recovered.

You should also contact your local authority and the Environment Agency (EA) – call 0800 80 70 60 – to see if they can offer any help and investigate an incident.

You must contact the EA under certain circumstances: if the illegally dumped waste is more than 20 tonnes (about 20cu m); more than 5cu m of fibrous asbestos; more than 75 litres of potentially hazardous waste in drums or containers; or possibly linked to criminal business activity or rural crime.

Top tips to prevent fly-tipping

There are a number of measures farmers and landowners can take to prevent fly-tipping on their land, although it must be acknowledged that stopping a determined waste criminal is very difficult.

The National Fly-tipping Prevention Group gives the following tips:

  • Restrict access to your land with the installation of gates or barriers, which can be strategically placed, earth bunds, tree trunks and boulders.
  • Better site management – keep areas tidy and remove fly-tipped waste quickly. Ensure gates are closed and, if possible, locked when not in use.
  • Deterrence – this can be in the form of lighting, signage, CCTV or dummy CCTV cameras, security patrols. See our Ultimate guide to farm security kit
  • Swiftly clear any waste to remove encouragement for others to add to it.
  • Work with others including your neighbours, local businesses and any existing partnerships.

Case study

Glynde Estate, near Newhaven, East Sussex

Over the past six weeks brazen waste processing operators have dumped more than 30 lorry loads of industrial waste in a disused chalk quarry owned by Glynde Estates. 

The offenders arrived in daylight, ripping locks off gates and dumping large quantities of soil-based screenings and shredded commercial waste at the quarry off the A26 between Newhaven and Lewes.

The landowner replaced the locks after the first spate of tipping, but that did not deter the criminals from returning to dump several more loads of waste.

Fly-tipping in the chalk quarry at Glynde Estates

Nick Jones, managing agent for Glynde Estates, says it remains to be seen who will pay to remove the tipped waste, but this will inevitably cost many thousands of pounds.

“It would seem that it is now those running waste transfer stations who are the criminal perpetrators,” he adds.

“Instead of taking the waste to landfill, they are dumping it on farms, estates and anywhere else they can find to avoid paying the appropriate charges. The government needs to clamp down on this.”

Mr Jones says the estate has invested in security cameras and is now considering buying heavy concrete barriers to keep the fly-tippers out.

“It is yet more cost and inconvenience, but these are the extremes one has to go to to avert the same thing happening again,” he adds.

“Fly-tipping is a big problem that is getting bigger. You are constantly worrying if it will happen again.”