Crime spotters take to the saddle

THAMES Valley Police is recruiting a new team of volunteer rural crime spotters in Chiltern and South Bucks.

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The volunteers are horse riders who will help with rural crime prevention while out on their normal hacking routes.

The role is voluntary and has no police powers attached but builds on the work of the force’s Horse Watch network which links horse owners, riders and equestrian workers with their local police teams.

To become a rural spotter, riders must past an application process and undertake a short training course. They must be 18+ with their own horse, personal liability insurance, own transport and no criminal record.

Volunteers will report any suspicious activity, including fly-tipping, unauthorised off- road biking and hare coursing to the NFU Rural Crime Reporting line on a free phone number, 0800 7830137.

Anyone interested should email Helen Evans, the Thames Valley Police equine liaison volunteer, who had the idea for the scheme. She said: Within the equine community we have an untapped source of people who are able to act as the eyes and ears of the police in rural areas.

Riders have the unique ability to go to fairly inaccessible places and have the advantage of height to see over hedges. My hope is that the scheme will make the countryside a safer place for all.”

Neighbourhood Sergeant Darren Walsh said: “By working together with the riding community, we can make criminals think twice, and deter and detect crime.”

Berks, Bucks and Oxon NFU Chairman Jeff Powell said: “Rural Spotters on horseback will be well placed to report any unusual or suspicious behaviour in the Buckinghamshire countryside and then log this anonymously through the NFU’s Rural Crime Reporting Line, run in partnership with Crimestoppers.”

For more details, see the Chiltern Community Forum.

Museum reopens for 2019

The Chiltern Open Air Museum reopens for the 2019 season this weekend with a living history event focused around World War I.

On Saturday, the museum marks English Tourism Week by officially opening its completed WWI Nissen hut to the public.

Over the weekend. costumed re-enactors will show the Tommies would relax on the home front and what weapons and kit they used when fighting.

Nurse and chaplain re-enactors will demonstrate how they supported the troops on the front line and back home.

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Visitors can take part in a poppy trail and dress up in WWI officer and nurse costumes.

On Saturday, there will also be the opportunity to chat to the museum team about educational visits, group visits, experience days, weddings and events at the Museum.

The event is part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project to rebuild a WWI Nissen hut on the site to commemorate WWI in the Chilterns and to tell the stories of local war heroes.

The museum is open from 10am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday and entry this weekend is by donation.

For more detail about the work of the museum see our History In The Making feature or visit the museum’s website.

Pupils call for climate change action

THOUSANDS of pupils took to the streets across the UK yesterday in a national protest calling for action on climate change.

Defying criticism from head teachers and the prime minister, schoolchildren in more than 60 towns and cities took part in marches calling on the government to declare a climate emergency and take active steps to tackle the problem.

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Organisers Youth Strike 4 Climate said protests took place in more than 60 towns and cities, with an estimated 15,000 taking part.

Meetings took place outside town halls from Truro to Inverness and from Norwich to Ullapool, with the largest crowds converging on parliament in Westminster, at one point blocking Westminster Bridge.

The action was part of a wider global movement, Schools 4 Climate Action, which began when 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg skipped classes to sit outside government buildings, accusing her country of not following the Paris Climate Agreement.

The climate activist, who has Asperger’s. quickly became a global phenomenon, being invited to speak at the UN and the World Economic Forum at Davos, where she told world leaders: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day – and then I want you to act.”

With more than 182,000 followers on Twitter Greta, now 16, has inspired thousands of other young people across the world to carry out similar protests, many of them with placards bearing slogans such as “There is no planet B”.

Students participating in yesterday’s day of protest in the UK demanded that the Government communicate the severity of the ecological crisis to the public and reform the curriculum to make it an educational priority.

Anna Taylor, 17, of UK Student Climate Network, said: “We’re running out of time for meaningful change, and that’s why we’re seeing young people around the world rising up to hold their governments to account on their dismal climate records.

“Unless we take positive action, the future’s looking bleak for those of us that have grown up in an era defined by climate change.”

In a TV interview she said: “I feel very disappointed that 15,000 students had to walk out of school today. We feel deeply betrayed by past generations and past governments.”

The campaign has also received celebrity backing.

On Twitter, TV presenter Chris Packham wrote: “Across the planet we have elected a confederacy of idiots obsessed with short term greed.

“Well today a bunch of children and young people are going to show them up. Bloody marvellous isn’t it!”

Theresa May was attacked by Labour politicians after saying that those taking part in the strike were “wasting lesson time”. And activist Greta Thurnberg responded on Twitter: “That may well be the case. But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 years of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”

Other young activists promoting the strike included 17-year-old wildlife ambassador Bella Lack and 14-year-old Dara McAnulty from Northern Ireland, an autistic naturalist and conservationist who demanded that governments declared our time “an ecological emergency”.

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The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that while it supported the rights of young people to express themselves, it did not condone students being out of the classroom to take action.

But writing in the Huffington Post, Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion and former leader and co-leader of The Green Party, said: “Our children recognise that they are living through a climate emergency. They are striking today because they know we cannot carry on as normal.

“There have been some who have questioned today’s strike – asking if climate change is enough of an ‘exceptional circumstance’ for children to miss lessons. But if the threat of civilisational collapse and the possibility of the end of life on Earth as we know it is not an exceptional circumstance, then I don’t know what it is.

“We’re already feeling the effects of climate breakdown. Nature and wildlife populations are at tipping points. Wildfires and droughts are becoming increasingly common.

“And in October last year, the United Nations warned that we have only 12 years left to transform our global economy and prevent catastrophe.”

She said young people were issuing a wake-up call and showing “courage and leadership where the adults in charge show none”.

Her message was echoed after the protest by Chris Packham, who Tweeted: “Day 1 – superb . And authority responded predictably – from headmasters to government . Never trust – always question them, be peaceful but forceful, rational and informed . The future is yours not theirs. Seize it.”

And energy minister Claire Perry said she was “incredibly proud” of young people’s passion and concern.

She told the BBC: “I suspect if this was happening 40 years ago, I would be out there too.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said schoolchildren were “right to feel let down by the generation before them” and said it was “inspiring” to see them making their voice heard.

Model village reopens for business

THE miniature world of Bekonscot reopens to the public next month, with some craft activities to keep youngsters busy during half-term week.

The 2019 season is a special one for Beaconsfield’s timeless tourist attraction because this August marks 90 years since Roland Callingham welcomed the first visitors to the model village and railway he built in his garden.

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There will be special celebrations in the summer to mark the event, but in the meantime the doors reopen at 10am on Saturday February 16  ready for the half-term holiday.

Special attractions include a chance for youngsters to make their own fridge magnets to take home on Monday, and a 45-minute workshop on Thursday where children can help to recreate one of Bekonscot’s animated models.

The model village actually comprises six little towns stuck in a 1930s timewarp with more than 200 buildings, 3,000 animals and features ranging from coal mines to great castles, aerodromes to farms, docks to cable cars, racecourses to escaped convicts!

Latest attractions include new models based on local businesses as they would have looked in the 1930s and a range of interactive activities for younger visitors in the EdShed, as the education centre has been re-branded.

Keep an eye on our What’s On pages for details of forthcoming attractions – and find out more about the tiny world of Bekonscot here.

Get tough on the waste cowboys

TOUGHER penalties and stronger investigatory powers should be adopted by the government to clamp down on rogue waste operators, an independent review has warned.

The cost of waste crime to the English economy rocketed to £600m in 2015 and the review, ordered by environment secretary Michael Gove, concluded that compulsory electronic tracking of waste could help clamp down on illegal movements of waste at home and abroad.

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Welcoming the findings, Mr Gove said: “The threat to society from waste crime is real. Criminals are running illegal waste sites as a cover for theft, human trafficking, drug running and money laundering. It is costing our economy millions of pounds each year, and blighting our communities. I welcome today’s review. We are committed to clamping down on these unscrupulous groups and we will set out our next steps in our forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy.”

Other recommendations include:

  • A Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC) led by the Environment Agency with the police, crime commissioners, HMRC and waste industry representatives working together to tackle the most serious cases;
  • a national database of registered waste brokers to make it harder for unscrupulous operators to do businesses.

Lizzie Noel who chaired the review said: “Our intention must be to give the criminals responsible real cause to fear the consequences of their actions.”

Between 2011 and 2017, the Environment Agency stopped the operation of more than 5,400 illegal waste sites.

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “Serious waste crime is the new narcotics – it damages the environment and harms local communities.

“In the last year, the Environment Agency has closed down over 800 illegal waste sites and brought almost 100 successful waste crime prosecutions. But there is still more to be done. This report represents an opportunity to ensure we have the right powers, resources and coordination to win this fight.”

The review builds on recent government measures to tackle waste crime, including new powers for the Environment Agency to lock the gates to problem waste sites to prevent waste illegally building up and powers to force operators to clear all the waste at problem sites.

Examples of recent prosecutions for waste crimes include arrests made earlier this year in London for fraud and money laundering offences across the country, and enforcement action taken in April 2017 after the illegal dumping of 20,000 tonnes of waste at 17 sites across the Midlands, North West and North East.

For more information see the full review.

Thousands rally for wildlife

THOUSANDS of people braved the September drizzle to join Chris Packham on a march to Whitehall calling on the government to take radical action to help reverse the decline of British wildlife.

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Protesters from around the country included families, friends and groups from organisations ranging from Friends of the Earth to local Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust.

As crowds gathered in Hyde Park, TV presenters like Lucy Cooke and Iolo Williams joined Packham and musician Billy Bragg to talk about the need for concerted action to reverse the decline of UK species – and avert their potential extinction.

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Industrialisation, urbanisation and over-exploitation were blamed for some of the most dramatic statistics, with changes in farming practices contributing to the loss of flower-rich meadows and millions of farmland birds.

With some walkers dressed as bees, birds, foxes, badgers and hedgehogs, protesters set out to deliver the “People’s manifesto” to Downing Street calling for an end to the “war on wildlife”.

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Describing the statistics as “horrifying, depressing and disastrous” the manifesto made a series of recommendations, including twinning primary schools with farms to help children understand how food is produced, banning driven grouse shooting, making it illegal to dredge for scallops and stopping Scottish seal culling.

“It’s time to wake up,” said Packham. “We are presiding over an ecological apocalypse and precipitating a mass extinction in our own backyard. But – vitally – it is not too late. There is hope we can hold to, and there is action we can take.”

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The People’s Walk departed for Westminster to the tune of digital birdsong reverberating through the streets of London from hundreds of smartphones.

The manifesto booklet includes a series of essays from 18 “ministers” highlighting some of the most critical concerns affecting the British landscape matched with specific proposals of ways which if implemented, would directly benefit the nation’s wildlife.

Contributors include authors, journalists, environmentalists and campaigners like Dr Mark Avery, Patrick Barkham, Kate Bradbury, Dr Robert Macfarlane and George Monbiot.

Campaign targets dumping menace

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE is stepping up its war against fly-tipping with a new campaign targeting selfish dumpers prepared to ruin the countryside in an effort to make a fast buck.

The Bucks Waste Partnership’s SCRAP campaign aims to warn householders that THEY could be punished if their rubbish turns up on a back road in Buckinghamshire.

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The message is that if it’s your rubbish, it’s your responsibility to dispose of it properly and legally. Otherwise dumpers could face a £400 fixed penalty notice or, if court action is taken, typically fines of several thousands of pounds or even a prison sentence.

The campaign also features advice for householders and businesses to thoroughly check anyone who they use to dispose of waste on their behalf. Failure to do so means people are not complying with duty of care requirements and could face a nasty surprise if their waste is found fly-tipped.

The campaign follows an upsurge of fly-tipping around the county, with more than two dozen serious incidents reported in the past few weeks around the Chalfonts, Denham and Iver, in some cases with back roads being completely blocked.

Last month The Beyonder highlighted the techniques being used to tackle the menace in a feature about the county council team which investigates and prosecutes such cases.

The SCRAP campaign stands for Suspect, Check, Refuse, Ask and Paperwork – a five-point checklist to help people stay on the right side of the law.

Bill Chapple OBE, Bucks Waste Partnership Chairman and County Council cabinet member for planning and environment said any form of fly-tipping was illegal and socially unacceptable.

“Local people tell me they hate fly tipping with a passion. It doesn’t matter if it’s a single bag or a truck load, fly-tipping is disgusting and on average costs our council taxpayers over £750,000 every year in clear up and enforcement costs.

“Fly-tipped material also presents dangers for wildlife, it can pollute local areas and it’s extremely expensive to clear up. People often don’t realise but you could also end up with a criminal record.

“We take a zero-tolerance approach and that tough stance means fly-tippers are around 16 times more likely to be caught and prosecuted in Buckinghamshire compared to the national average. Quite often it’s surveillance camera evidence or an eagle-eyed resident noting down a vehicle number plate that helps bring perpetrators to justice.

“However, going forward we want to do even better and I am determined not to allow the mindless actions of the few, to spoil it for the people that love Buckinghamshire and its beautiful countryside.”

The campaign also reminds people that they can also play their part by reporting suspicious activity or fly tipping in progress. All they need to do is go online to www.fixmystreet.buckscc.gov.uk and select fly-tipping from the  drop-down menu.

Bucks Waste Partnership member and cabinet member for environment at South Bucks District Council, Luisa Sullivan said: “Some of the excuses people give are unbelievable, from promising to come back in the morning to collect a fly-tipped bag to needing to tidy out a works van. Listen to your common sense, think before you act and don’t be tempted to fly tip in the first place.

“Even if you can’t dispose of waste yourself, there are many alternatives that won’t land you in trouble. For example, each Buckinghamshire district council offers a bulky waste collection service for larger items or kerbside waste and recycling centres for things like glass, paper and plastic bottles.”

She added: “Alternatively you could consider donating or even selling your unwanted items. You might make a few pounds for yourself rather than having to pay out thousands in fines.”

For further details about all aspects of the campaign, visit: www.recycle4bucks.co.uk/flytip

High cost of waste crime

NEVER pay a man in cash to take your household rubbish away – it could cost you a fortune (and a criminal record).

That’s the message from Buckinghamshire waste enforcement officer David Rounding after an upsurge in fly-tipping incidents across the county.

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COSTLY CRIME: David Rounding probes a dumping incident near Burnham

He believes many householders still don’t realise the consequences of allowing rogue waste collectors to dispose of their rubbish.

More than a third of those prosecuted in the county over fly-tipped waste are people who claim to have paid someone else to get rid of their unwanted household items. But David warns that cash payments to strangers are a recipe for disaster.

It’s a trend that has been fuelled in the past couple of years by so-called “Facebook fly- tippers” offering cheap waste collection services.

“People don’t seem to realise they could face a substantial fine and end up with a criminal record because they have allowed someone to get rid of their waste without checking them out,” he said.

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WASTE DETECTIVE: enforcement officer David Rounding

The legislation makes it a crime not only to actually dump waste but also to fail to show a “duty of care” in arranging for waste to be disposed of.

So if your property ends up being dumped in a country layby and can be traced back to you, it’s you who could end up in court.

The surge in rubbish dumping across the country cost taxpayers £57m in 2017-18, a rise of 13 per cent on the previous year.

Local authorities in England deal with a million fly-tipping incidents a year – and in Buckinghamshire that translates to six a day on average, costing £500,000 in clean-up costs.

Much of the rubbish comes from households in nearby London boroughs like Hillingdon or local conurbations like Slough and Uxbridge – and since 2015, there has been a growing industry of criminal rubbish collectors advertising their services via social media sites like Facebook.

In May the Local Government Association highlighted the problem was on the increase. A spokesman said: “Small-scale criminals are attempting to undercut legitimate services by offering to take household rubbish away cheaply. But often they are just dumping items on other people’s land or in public. People should avoid using these services as they are driving the problem.”

David Rounding says a further irony is that many of the criminals are not even charging “cheap” rates.

“We have seen householders being charged hundreds of pounds for someone to take their rubbish away – sometimes two or three times the market rate. But in Buckinghamshire the ten recycling centres are free to use for household waste,” he said.

Families moving to new-build homes may be easy targets if they don’t know the area or how easy it is to dispose of their rubbish. They can also be targeted by fly-tippers on the look-out for bulkier items like sofas or beds which can be easily loaded into a Transit-style van or pick-up.

As many as half of local residents are thought to be unaware that they have a duty of care to dispose of their unwanted stuff correctly and can be fined or prosecuted if their rubbish is subsequently fly-tipped.

Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s environment spokesman, told the Telegraph in May: “Fly-tipping is unsightly and unacceptable environmental vandalism. It’s an absolute disgrace for anyone to think that they can use the environments in which our residents live as a repository for litter.”

David Rounding believes a simple ban on cash payments would go a long way to solving the problem and keeping law-abiding residents out of trouble: “If your rubbish ends up in a layby in Buckinghamshire, we will be asking you how it got there. We suffer from more fly-tipping than many councils and we will prosecute.”

He points out that the council has saved £3m over the past decade through its zero-tolerance approach, because the cost of clearing fly-tipped waste is so high.

“People using someone they have only met through Facebook face a much greater risk,” he warned. “Don’t pay cash – pay online or with a cheque. Ask to see the firm’s waste carrier permit. Legitimate companies won’t mind giving you’re their name or registration number.”

What is fly-tipping?

Fly-tipping is the illegal disposal of household, industrial, commercial or other ‘controlled’ waste without a waste management licence. The waste includes garden refuse and larger domestic items such as fridges and mattresses.

What are the penalties?

Fly-tipping is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £50,000 or 12 months’ imprisonment if convicted in a magistrates’ court. The offence can attract an unlimited fine and up to five years’ imprisonment if convicted in a crown court. There are also a number of other possible penalties, including fixed penalty notices of up to £400 and seizing a vehicle and/or its contents because of suspected involvement in fly-tipping.

To report a fly-tipping incident to David and his colleagues, visit the county council’s web page or the Fix My Street website.

Volunteers make a clean sweep

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KEEPING IT CLEAN: volunteers hit the streets in Hereford [PICTURE: Andrew Wood]

COMMUNITY websites CAN make a real difference when it comes to getting local people to change their littering habits, it seems.

It’s almost a year since Emma Jones and Andrew Wood set up their online community in Hereford dedicated to clearing up local areas, following a community litter pick the friends took part in last Easter organised by Keep Britain Tidy.

That initiative tied in with a local Herefordshire Council campaign called Stop the Drop launched in January 2016 – and a year on, the community clean-up website now boasts more than 1400 members and has its own website too.

“There’s a new national feeling that we have become recycling conscious and getting people to join was relatively easy,” says Andrew, who used local buying and selling websites to put out an appeal for volunteers to get involved.

The council stepped in with litter pickers, high-visibility vests and rubbish bags. From the start, the aim was to encourage individuals to clean up local streets around their homes on a very small scale – and that seems to be having an impact, he believes.

“You need enforcement officers to be fining people to change habits,” he said. “But it has been working very, very well.” Sponsorship from local companies has helped to make the group self-sufficient and the group liaises with those companies on the ground too.

“We will work with Asda to do the area surrounding the car park, for example,” he says. “And we will name and shame too. Companies don’t like the bad publicity if they are not clearing up their own property.”

As well as retrieving supermarket trolleys from the river and notifying the council of fly-tipping incidents, the group has launched a new project to tidy up the flower beds at the main station.

It has also forged links with other groups performing similar roles around the country – from Michelle Medler and her team in Kidderminster to the Dorset Devils in Bournemouth.

The group has increasingly developed into a social group too, as well as entering a float in the Hereford River Carnival, sprucing up the town for Hereford in Bloom and prompting a major county council campaign against dog fouling.

“We are making a difference,” insists Andrew. “It takes time and it doesn’t happen overnight. But things are changing for the better.”

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SUPERMARKET SWEEP: salvaging trolleys from the river

Beyonder holds litter ‘audit’

THE BEYONDER is holding a ‘litter audit’ across South Bucks to help assess the best way of planning a clean-up campaign in the area.

Editor Andrew Knight has written to local parish and district councils asking for information about the scale of the litter and fly-tipping problem and for information about how current resources are organised.

The initial area covered stretches from Marlow to Denham, Beaconsfield, Gerrards Cross, Chalfont St Peter and Chalfont St Giles. It includes the whole of South Bucks District, along with parts of Chiltern and Wycombe district council areas.

Mr Knight said: “It’s a beautiful part of the Chilterns which includes three country parks but there are some through roads which are badly affected by littering and some tiny back routes which suffer from occasional fly-tipping.”

The issue has been getting increasing national exposure, most recently on this year’s BBC Springwatch series, when Michaela Strachan spoke to a number of groups in Bristol about their efforts to combat plastic pollution.

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COTTON BUD CRACKDOWN: Michaela Strachan meets Natalie Fee in Bristol

Meanwhile Michelle Medler  in Kidderminster recruited hundreds of helpers from youngsters to pensioners to join her Facebook group litter pick-up squad.

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CLEANING UP: Michelle Medler and fellow volunteers in Kidderminster

Now, to work out the scale of the problem in the Chilterns and the best way of tackling it, The Beyonder has contacted a score of parish councis asking what they are doing to cope with litter and fly-tipping, what problems they are encountering and how much it all costs.

Approaches will also be made to the three district councils in South Buckinghamshire, which are responsible for waste collection, and the county council, which looks after the highways and deals with fly-tipping complaints and waste disposal.

The survey follows consultation with campaign group Clean Up Britain, which recently launched a pioneering year-long anti-litter project in Leamington Spa, and Peter Silverman, whose Clean Highways website has long campaigned for the Highways Agency to do more to tackle litter on local motorways and motorway slip roads.

Mr Knight said: “Although our circulation area stretches over quite a large area it made sense for us to start off by assessing things on our doorstep, where we can see the scale of the problem for ourselves.”

The online magazine hopes to speak to countryside rangers, ramblers and dog walkers as well as campaigners and the relevant councils, with the aim of drawing up detailed plans for the best way of volunteers being able to play a part in tackling the problem.

For more information, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk or via the Facebook group, The Beyonder.