A farmer has said his land being repeatedly targeted by flytippers is heartbreaking - and urged people to check who is getting rid of their rubbish.
Josiah Jones, who owns land near Gravesend, has been speaking about the financial and emotional burden of rubbish being illegally dumped on agricultural land, as figures reveal cases of flytipping have risen in every part of the county.
According to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), there were more than 31,000 flytipping incidents recorded across Kent in 2020/21, up from 25,000 during the previous 12 months.
Medway is the worst affected area in the county - with almost 6,000 cases last year. Dartford, Swale, Maidstone and Thanet also feature in the top five.
Rural insurance broker Lycetts said incidents on agricultural land have increased and urged farmers to take action to protect their land.
Rupert Wailes-Fairbairn, from Lycetts, said: "Incidents not only pose significant environmental and human health risks, but also a legal and financial burden for farmers and landowners.
“Although local authorities will usually pay the clean-up costs of clearing waste from public land, the responsibility for removing waste from private land falls squarely at the feet of the landowners. If they fail to do so, they can face prosecution.”
Clean-up bills per incident average around £1,000, according to the National Rural Crime Network, but large-scale incidents can cost up to £10,000.
Rupert added: "In some cases, farmers can be repeatedly targeted and costs can quickly escalate."
Last year, a report by NFU Mutual into rural crime revealed Kent is one of one of worst hit locations in the UK.
Josiah Jones, who runs Harvel House Farm with his family, said flytipping is happening on agricultural land on a daily basis: "The problem has been getting steadily worse for a long time. We get flytipping on our land weekly - and are constantly hearing of it from neighbours.
"We have farmers' What's App group and it seems to be daily that something has happened to someone - and that's just near neighbours.
"Not only is it getting more frequent - but the the size of the flytipping is getting bigger."
He added: "I feels like rural areas are a target. It in incredibly hard to face every time you go out and find something where someone has taken advantage of what you are trying to build. It is heartbreaking and incredibly depressing."
Rupert said criminals can take advantage of the darker winter nights to dump rubbish and councils will often see a surge of incidents in January as people look to dispose of post-festive waste.
“For those at risk of being targeted during these dark winter evenings, extra vigilance and a review of security measures is prudent,” he added.
“Prevention is better than cure and steps should be taken to ensure access to land and fields is restricted, where possible, with physical barriers.
“Gates should be locked when not in use and although witnesses of fly-tipping incidents should not approach the perpetrators, by cutting back hedges and installing exterior lighting, visibility for the landowner can be notably improved.
"The installation of security cameras can also act as a deterrent and help in securing successful prosecutions.”
Last year, Josiah and his family took matters into their own hands after getting fed up with repeated incidents of rubbish being dumped. His father, 65-year-old farmer Steve Jones, blocked in the perpetrators with a car and was joined by his sons in their tractor and forklift.
Josiah said all farmers are having to take more drastic action to stop flytipping.
He explained: "Gates aren't good enough any more. You have locked gates and the gates get stolen. You have to put ditches around the fields, heavy weights in gateways, or logs and trees in gateways. It is a difficult job just to get access to your own field. It is frustrating."
Josiah said the costs of the clear-ups is a "huge financial burden" - running into several thousand pounds per incident.
He added: "And that's before you think of the damage, the worry, the time spent checking on things. You are constantly on edge and you can't put a price on that."
Josiah said most of the waste being dumped is household rubbish, adding: "I have no doubt people are paying someone in good faith to get rid of it properly and that's not happening.
"The one thing I can say to the general public is to check the people they are using to get rid of their rubbish are licensed waste carries."
Cllr Shane Mochrie-Cox, Gravesham council’s cabinet member for community and leisure, said: “We are keen to work with local farmers, landowners and the wider rural community to tackle flytipping through prevention and prosecution.
“Since 2020 we have worked hard to identify and take enforcement action against those responsible for flytipping and illegal waste carriage in rural areas of the borough.
“When flytipping is reported to us and there is any likelihood of evidence being found, or the offence is witnessed, officers will attend and begin an investigation, so it is important that all flytipping offences, including those in rural areas, are reported to us. If the Environmental Enforcement Team is unaware of the offences, they cannot investigate them.
“Since October 2020, officers from the team have issued nearly 90 £400 Fixed Penalty Notices for small scale flytipping offences and prosecuted more than 20 individuals for more serious offences. In addition there are a large number of cases awaiting court appearance. Many of these fines and a large proportion of the court prosecutions involve offences which have taken place in rural areas.
“In a recent court case the flytipping of household waste in a rural location resulted in the offender receiving a £1,500 fine and court costs of nearly £500. In another case a local landlord who tipped and burned waste in a rural area of Meopham faced a penalty of nearly £2,000.
“In addition to the responsive work, we are working hard with other local authorities which border our rural areas and with Kent Police to target flytippers and those involved in the unlawful transfer of waste.
“We recognise the part that householders and waste carriers have to play in preventing flytipping and as a result have recently introduced fixed penalty fines relating to the disposal and carriage of waste. Householders who fail to ensure that waste is disposed of lawfully can face a £400 fine or court appearance and those who carry waste without a permit or appropriate documentation can face fines of £300 for each offence or a court prosecution.”