Fly-tipping. A farmer’s nightmare

Jan 12th, 2020

Françoise Vandale, Partner

As we head into the New Year many of us feel the need to clear out the old to make room for the new. Certainly in my household trying to find room for all the Christmas presents that Santa left under the tree is an endless task! Like many, I had a good clear out and made my way to the charity shop only to see a sign saying they could not take any further donations due to health and safety. Clearly more people had the same mission as I did that day. Often items are beyond a secondary owner and inevitably will find their way to landfill. But what happens to the items that do not conclude their journey at the local tip? What happens to the rubbish that ends up being dumped on farms and estates?

Farmer’s Weekly reported recently that Defra’s latest figures reveal fly-tipping incidents dealt with by local authorities from April 2018 to March 2019 increased by 8% on the previous year. There were over a million cases. The cases reported are only those of the local authorities and this ignores the incidents of fly-tipping on private land, which also continues to increase. The Country Land and Business Association believe that over two thirds of farmers and landowners have been affected by fly-tipping on their land. Whatever the latest statistic, this problem doesn’t appear to be diminishing. Certain factors have led to the increase, such as, landfill tax rises and the tightening up of the Environmental Permitting regime.

As the law currently stands following an illegal dumping incident the individual landowner is liable to remove the waste from the land and dispose of it through the correct legal channels, this being a costly exercise. In the event that the offender is found, the landowner has the right to claim the cost back from them, but they are rarely caught. Certain associations, such as the CLA, have lobbied to change the law, so that landowners are not met with the cost of dealing with the removal of the waste, but so far things have not changed.  Instead the government has taken the approach of trying to improve landowners’ awareness of their potential liabilities for waste.

A landowner might be faced with criminal liability if it was found that they had knowingly permitted fly tipping to take place on their land, perhaps infill. In the event that the waste contains hazardous material this could be significantly costly to the landowner. If the local authority serves a planning enforcement notice on the landowner following a fly-tipping event, the landowner can again face criminal sanctions if the enforcement notice is not dealt with in a timely manner.

It is clear that the law surrounding fly-tipping is incredibly unfair on farmers and landowners, who are the main victims of these crimes and are left liable for the clean-up costs and possible criminal sanctions if not dealt with correctly. It remains to be seen as to whether the law will change in 2020, but I would anticipate more lobbying about the issue before anything is done to assist landowners and farmers.

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