Public holidays, long weekends and good weather seem to bring out the worst in countryside users. Litter and dog-dung lie even more thickly than usual, there are more reports of gates being left open allowing livestock to stray, of vehicles and motorbikes being raced illegally on farm land and private roads, and an increase in general vandalism.
This year, the long spell of dry weather also produced a spate of moorland and forest fires. Some were accidental. Others were started deliberately and, looking at the devastation and danger such fires can cause, we can only wonder: why?
Fire-raising is not in the same category as litter and failing to clean up after your dog. Fires are started by the mentally disturbed seeking a thrill, with no thought of possibly fatal consequences for firefighters or others.
Litter and dog fouling are the result of ignorance, carelessness, stupidity and wilful defiance of social responsibility. You only have to see a youngster actually standing beside a litter bin drop an empty soft drink can on the ground, or a pile of dog faeces beside a “no fouling” sign or bag disposal bin to realise that.
Any chance of what I still like to think is a minority changing its ways? I doubt it. Fines for dog fouling have been in force for a long time, but instances of them being applied are relatively rare.
Dog and owner have to be caught in the act, details confirmed, and witnesses not intimidated. My own belief is that responsible dog owners who do clean up, who do bag it and bin it, should take more action. Surely it can’t be any more pleasurable for them than the rest of us to miss half the enjoyment of a woodland walk because we have to keep eyes to the ground?
Letters about dog fouling to newspapers such as ours are frequent. Most of us, surely, are against it? Yet on paths, beaches and dunes, woods and field paths the faeces lie thick.
Apart from other concerns, dog faeces on farmland can cause, and spread, diseases in livestock. Yet I fear, unless threat of fines is replaced by a threat to shoot dogs, nothing is going to change.
The same is true of litter. Contempt for our surroundings is evident on any high street littered with takeaway wrappers and cartons, chewing gum, chocolate and sweet wrappers and dog faeces. It is also evident on any main or country road where car drivers and passengers have decided that litter is better out than in. No point bagging it in the car for later disposal when it can be thrown out the window.
It is estimated by the organisation Keep Britain Tidy that more than two million items of litter are dropped in Britain every day, and seven out of 10 of those come from vehicles. Cigarette butts and packets, chewing gum, drinks containers, fruit peel, and packaging for fast foods lead the list. Disposable nappies are also probably high on the list, although the inventors of this useful product probably didn’t have that method of disposal in mind.
As with dog fouling, it has been an offence for some time to drop litter from a car. The problem was that the culprit had to be identified. Now “new, tougher, rules” have been introduced which will make the registered owner of the vehicle liable to a hefty fine, regardless of who threw the litter.
I predict with some confidence that the new tougher rules for dropping litter, as with existing rules and those for dog fouling, will be no more effective than the “new, tougher, rules” we were promised for those using a mobile phone while driving, or those in force for fly-tipping. The problem will still be to catch someone in the act, to challenge them, to prove the offence, and enforce the fine.
That seldom happens now for any of the above offences, even during times when countryside and town are crowded, as during the recent public holidays and wedding celebrations. The stupid, thoughtless, wilfully defiant and, let’s be honest, thick, are not going to change their ways.
It’s unfortunate that sometimes the conscientious and well-meaning users of the countryside can be almost as irritating to farmers and their staff as the litterers and dog-foulers. That is particularly true in spring on livestock farms, especially in hill and upland areas where walkers and visitors see problems where none exist.
The story about a group of walkers standing agog and worried beside a hill ewe giving birth – normally and without problems – being elbowed aside by a woman saying: “Let me through, I’m a midwife” is probably apocryphal. But not too far from the truth of some telephone calls fielded by busy farmers during lambing time from members of the public who think there is cause for concern.
The most common is a belief that a lying or sleeping lamb has been abandoned. By the time it is picked up and carried to the farmhouse to distress all round, there’s a good chance it has been. Unfortunately, I’m not sure much can be done about that well-meaning interference either.