Fly-tipping has increased substantially since lockdown regulations have been in force, with Scotland experiencing a rise in fly-tipping of 83% over this period, as reported by ClearWaste, a new phone app which provides a facility for anyone in the UK to report fly tipped waste. Rural areas have been the most severely impacted, with the Countryside Alliance reporting a 300% rise in fly-tipping in certain countryside locations, placing an “unacceptable” burden on local communities to deal with this additional waste.

Whilst it is evident that the closure of recycling centres and reduction in waste collection services is to blame for this unprecedented rise, fly-tipping is not a new phenomenon, and this increase follows a trend of exponential growth in fly-tipping year-on-year throughout the UK. This has led to calls from the Scottish Countryside Alliance for the Scottish Government to take more significant action in the fight against fly-tipping to alleviate the impact of this abhorrent activity upon rural areas. Yet, though it is clear that action on fly-tipping is necessary, the number of prosecutions for this criminal activity in Scotland has fallen by two-thirds over three years, with a prominent South Scotland MSP noting that only one in every 3,000 fly-tipping offences is presently being prosecuted.

The failure to secure prosecutions for fly-tipping is compounded by a legal system which in the majority of cases leaves the landowner responsible for the costs of removing waste from their property, as under current legislation landowners are compensated only when those responsible for fly-tipping have been identified. This places an unconscionable liability upon rural property owners, such as farms and estates, already operating upon tight financial budgets, with the NFU, for example, stating that fly-tipping affects two-thirds of all farmers. Prominent figures are calling for a change in the law, with Scottish Land & Estates also asking members to get involved and write to their local politicians, leading to over 40 MSPs, MPs and councillors pledging their support for further action. Nevertheless, there is little evidence available that any real change is on the horizon, though Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has stated that her department are “engaged in a continuing conversation with SEPA, which is looking closely at a variety of ways of addressing the issue.”

 There are a number of steps that landowners and managers of land can take to prevent fly-tipping, including:-

  • Installing gates and barriers and improving visibility of site entrances
  • Keeping areas tidy and removing fly-tipped waste quickly or reporting fly-tipping promptly
  • Installing CCTV in the worst affected areas to assist with identifying fly-tippers
  • Sharing information with neighbours. 

Landowners seeing anyone dumping rubbish illegally are asked to report this to Zero Waste Scotland using the following form: www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/DumbDumpers.  

Although it is unlikely that the present level of fly-tipping will persist once lockdown restrictions are lifted and waste facilities reopen, this odious activity will continue to have a significant impact on rural communities beyond the threat of Covid-19, and it is the behaviour of individuals and the inability of local authorities to adequately enforce regulations which is the root cause to be addressed in the long-term.