FORESTS provide a valuable space for anyone seeking ways to find fitness, mindfulness or a free amenity for energetic kids, but they’re also easy targets for sneaky, illegal dumping.
There are three very good reasons to be angry at those responsible for fly-tipping or illegal dumping. Dumpers damage the environment, they are too lazy and/or cheap to legally dispose of items that are often recyclable and they cost the rest of us money!
The things you find in forests
My walking buddy and I are no strangers to coming across other people’s discarded belongings on walks, whether it’s kitchen parts, broken toys, old TVs and sofas or the leftovers of a house party. However, the latest incident lowered ‘the bar’, so to speak. Last weekend, we spotted an old picture lying in a ditch alongside some recyclable household materials!
Definitely one of the more bizarre sights we’ve come across since we started walking together almost nine years ago.
But it’s not just old fittings and furniture left over from house refurbishments that forestry and local authority workers have to clear up.
Sometimes staff have to remove the decaying carcasses of animals that have been butchered or hunted illegally, as well as potentially harmful materials like asbestos and car batteries. And I’m not even going to get started on the dumping of toxic sludge by fuel launderers in the Irish border region.
As a parent whose children treat our local woodlands as a natural playground, my fear is that they will be exposed to things like broken glass, rusty metals, rotting animal parts and disintegrating batteries.
And of course, there are the risks to wildlife from poisonous chemicals or other harmful substances as well as habitat damage and water pollution.
The real cost of illegal dumping
A few years ago, I wrote an article about finding car parts dumped amongst the trees in a forest near our home. At the time, a Coillte worker told me that dealing with the problem of illegal dumping was a “costly activity” for the Irish state-owned forestry body.
Coillte owns 445,000 hectares of land across Ireland and the bill for clearing up the mess left behind by illegal dumpers runs to a massive EUR450,000 annually – and that’s taxpayers’ cash.
When I was researching for the 2013 article, the Northern Ireland Forest Service told me that they spent around £100,000 every year on removing dumped waste from their lands. The people I spoke to in both bodies were very frustrated by the fact that money had to be spent on cleaning up after fly-tippers that could have been put to good use elsewhere.
Most of the 1,600 complaints made by members of the public to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during 2015 related to illegal dumping both in urban and rural areas.
What to do
The EPA launched its smartphone app See it? Say it! in 2015 to encourage the public to report cases of environmental pollution, including fly-tipping and littering. The app works alongside the watchdog’s 24-hour complaints line 1850 365 121 (Ireland).
The app can be downloaded by visiting goo.gl/gOJMa (iPhone App) or goo.gl/V7eNYe (Android App). The complaints are ultimately delivered to the FixYourStreet.ie website , which is monitored continuously by all local authorities.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve had conversations with two people who commented on the many hours Tidy Towns volunteers spend taking part in clean-ups in rural communities (or their Best Kept equivalents in Northern Ireland).
Both people complained that almost immediately after clean-ups were completed new litter started to accumulate. There was a real sense of anger and frustration that the time offered freely by volunteers could be quite callously and thoughtlessly disregarded by those behind the littering.
But my personal bugbear on this issue is that money that could be spent by forestry services on tree planting and conservation, or could be allocated to services in health and education etc, has to be spent cleaning up other people’s mess.
Looking at the amount of recyclable materials that get dumped in the forests where we live, I’m not sure if it’s possible to re-educate adults (apart from fines etc), but there’s already fantastic work being done in schools through the Green-Schools programme to foster an appreciation of the environment in students. And of course, a child who is taught by a parent or guardian not to litter is likely to become an adult who does not litter. So, there is hope for cleaner forests in the future.
To learn more about the huge number of items you can recycle check out the Repak website by clicking here.
You might also like to read my blogs on litter problems at the beautiful Mahon Falls in Co Waterford and the work being done by a local community to restore the Glengarra Mountain Lodge in Co Tipperary.
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