Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Day in life of Fife anti-litter officers: Stab threats and being called a ‘paedo’

With littering, fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour 'getting worse', Courier senior feature writer Michael Alexander joins Fife Council safer communities officers Callum Houston and Kevin Wright to hear about the tough nature of their important job.

Fife Council safer communities officers Callum Houston (left) and Kevin Wright as they investigate a complaint of dog fouling in Cupar. Image: Michael Alexander
Fife Council safer communities officers Callum Houston (left) and Kevin Wright as they investigate a complaint of dog fouling in Cupar. Image: Michael Alexander

Vapes, McDonald’s wrappers, coffee cups, cans, bottles, crisp bags.

Just some of the rubbish strewn along country roadsides in parts of Fife.

But why do some people think it’s acceptable to throw litter from their moving vehicles?

Why is fly-tipping such a problem, despite the risk of a £500 fine? And why do some dog owners refuse to pick up their dog mess, despite the risk of an £80 fine?

Fly-tipping in Fife from 2020. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

The answer, according to those tackling the problems on the frontline in Fife, is because many people are “lazy” and “don’t give two hoots”.

What is the job of Fife Council’s safer communities team?

Working with other departments and partner organisations, Fife Council’s safer communities team has responsibility for the enforcement and issuing of fixed penalty notices. These cover dog fouling, dog control, fly tipping, littering, formal warnings for noise and Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBO).

But despite working to improve the local environment, make people feel safer and reduce crime, frontline officers can be shouted at, abused and forced to wear stab-proof vests when they interview alleged perpetrators.

Discarded litter thrown from cars on the A914 outside Cupar. Image: Michael Alexander

They are sometimes mocked by “feral” schoolchildren who “know their rights”. Officers have also had complaints lodged against them by litter-throwing adults.

Yet by organising primary school litter picks and supporting communities who take clean-ups into their own hands, the officers are also motivated to keep making a positive difference.

They have the support, they believe, from the responsible, law-abiding majority of the public.

What happened when The Courier spent a ‘day in the life’ of Fife Council officers?

It’s a sunny Tuesday morning when The Courier joins Fife Council safer communities officers Kevin Wright and Callum Houston on shift to find out more.

Meeting me in their van at a pre-arranged pick up point in Cupar, the pair, on a 7am to 3pm shift, already have a list of jobs that have come through centrally via the Total Mobile app on their tablet.

Fife Council safer communities officers Kevin Wright (left) and Callum Houston on patrol in Cupar. Image: Michael Alexander

Covering an area from West Wemyss to the Tay Bridgehead, their job sheet ranges from a dog fouling complaint to an environmental health house call.

But with the pair also “on call” for “priority” anti-social behaviour cases, the morning will also see them respond to extra call-outs.

These will include a loud music complaint and a request from the police to help clear up after a drugs raid.

From fighting firebugs to tackling litter bugs

We drive to check up on a “hoarder” who’s had environmental health concerns raised at her private property in the Tay Bridgehead.

Kevin, 45, explains how he’s been in the job for two and a half years.

The former pupil of Pitteuchar East Primary and Auchmuty High School, Glenrothes, studied motor vehicle engineering at Elmwood College, Cupar. He then moved into car sales.

Backseat view – on the road with Fife Council safer communities officers Callum Houston and Kevin Wright. Image: Michael Alexander

He spent some time as a retained firefighter and ended up with the council just over 10 years ago. He initially worked with the parks, streets and open spaces services in Kirkcaldy.

Meanwhile, Cupar-raised Callum, 26, – a former pupil of Castlehill Primary and Bell Baxter High School – started the job last May. He normally covers the Dunfermline area.

The young father is also an amateur footballer who plays for Balmullo-based Fife Thistle

He previously travelled the country as a debt collector.

While that means he’s “used to the abuse”, he says it’s “night and day” compared to his old job when he was sometimes threatened with baseball bats.

‘Laziness’ and ‘disposable culture’ at heart of generational problem, say officers

“I would say the problem of littering and fly-tipping is getting worse,” says Kevin, as we pass discarded bottles and cans lying on rural verges.

“You go to some primary school playgrounds after piece time or lunchtime and it’s just strewn with litter.

“There are plenty bins in playgrounds, outside playgrounds. You go as far up as adults who pick up dog poo in bags then chuck it in the trees. It’s absolutely disgusting.

Tyres illegally dumped along a Fife country road side. Image: Fife Council safer communities.

“But it is just a generational thing. Laziness. Disposable culture.”

Callum agrees, adding: “I think it’s just the way society is going at the moment. People are getting lazier. I think it’s getting worse in general for sure.”

‘Treading carefully’ at the home of a hoarder

Arriving at the first property of the day in north Fife, I’m asked to stay in the vehicle so that the homeowner doesn’t get “spooked” by the press.

Before getting out of the van, Kevin explains how the call originally came through to them as a dirty garden complaint.

The woman, who lives alone, has collected huge amounts of “stuff” which she believes is good for charity shops. She’s keen on recycling. However, it’s spilled out of her house and into her garden. Some of it has been there for years.

Tay Bridgehead. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

It’s become an environmental issue because the items are attracting vermin.

“We are having to tread carefully,” says Kevin, adding that it would cost around £1,000 to get the council’s pest controllers out to the private properties.

“We’ve done a previous visit. All of her bins were emptied. We asked if she could fill her blue and brown bins. We’re just here to see how she’s getting on – to work with her and educate her.”

Dog fouling complaint in Cupar

Satisfied that some progress is being made, but making a note for an officer to visit again the following week, we hit the road back towards Cupar.

The council has received an anonymous complaint about persistent dog fouling.

There’s already a dog fouling warning sign on a lamp post warning of a fixed penalty fine.

Fife Council safer communities officer Callum Houston ties a new no dog fouling sign to a lamp post in Cupar following an anonymous complaint. Image: Michael Alexander

But the best approach here is for Callum to tie a bigger sign to the lamppost. That will encourage anyone with information to get in touch.

It can be difficult to trace dog foulers. However, video doorbell footage can often provide evidence to aid investigations.

Heading south towards Levenmouth – and checking out some notorious fly-tipping hotspots on the Cults road between Cupar and Kennoway along the way – the pair give further insight into their experiences.

What’s the worst fly-tipping incident the Fife Council officers have seen?

Callum says the most “unbelievable” fly-tipping incident he’s dealt with was outside Dunfermline.

Folk had been reversing up a remote track with tipper vans. When a dog walker eventually reported it, the whole site was found to be covered with “hundreds of fridge freezers, mattresses, glass and tyres”.

Elsewhere, a caravan was once dumped in the middle of Broom in Leven. it had been “filled to the gunnels” with car tyres.

Westfield Energy Park was one of Fife's fly-tipping hotspots in 2020
Westfield Energy Park was one of Fife’s fly-tipping hotspots in 2020. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson.

In another “horrendous” incident, a lorry dumped hundreds of tyres along the length of the Burnturk to Kennoway road. That was apparently to avoid disposal charges.

Dumped asbestos is another regular problem. While safe, reputable disposal might cost thousands, a “white van man might take it away for a couple of hundred quid and dump it up the back roads”. If traced back, it’s the owner who will be liable.

Yet recent figures show that none of Fife’s 15,000 fly-tipping reports over the last four years resulted in court action against those responsible.

‘Feral’ children and being called a ‘paedo’ – but there’s good work in schools too

Kevin also tells stories of kids “terrorising” people on Leven High Street.

He recalls the time he challenged a second year pupil who was dropping litter during a lunchtime litter patrol at Levenmouth Academy.

She called him a “paedo” – forcing him to lock down his Facebook page and report her to the police and school authorities when she started looking him up on social media. Such behaviour often reflects wider issues going on at home.

South Parks Primary School, Glenrothes, joined the Just Bin It campaign urging people to bin their litter and clean up after their dogs in 2018.

But they also build a good rapport with many young people and have run many successful school litter campaigns.

Then there’s the annual problem with overflowing bins and materials dumped by St Andrews University students moving out of flats at the end of summer term. Despite annual information sessions about recycling and procedure, it makes “little difference”, they say.

Meanwhile, Kevin reveals they and other agencies have been dealing with a homeless man in St Andrews. He sleeps rough in a shop doorway and it’s got to the point where the council’s street cleansing team are “refusing to pick up his human faeces”.

They were also in St Andrews recently after a sofa was found dumped in the Kinness Burn. That’s despite Fife Council recently introducing a free uplift service for bulky household items and fines going up.

Fly-tipping, dumping and anti-social behaviour in Levenmouth

We arrive at a “notorious” street in Levenmouth – an area featured on the BBC’s recent landmark Drugs Map of Britain series – where there has been a history of anti-social behaviour and illegal dumping.

Here, one tenant has a reputation for throwing rubbish out of his window. They regularly receive complaints from the street cleansing team.

Fife Council safer communities officer Kevin Wright surveys dumped rubbish outside flats in Kennoway. Image: Michael Alexander

However, Kevin says there’s “no point issuing a fine” because the perpetrator is “on full benefits and has never worked a day in his life”. It’s also clear, he says, that the perpetrator has mental health issues.

Fife Council safer communities officers Callum Houston (right) and Kevin Wright checking out the address of a known anti-social behaviour perpetrator. Image: Michael Alexander

The council has worked with him – giving him black bin bags and support.

But it makes little difference as he’s “not interested”. On this occasion, a check is made at his property, but he doesn’t answer.

We stop in Wellesley Road, Methil, where Callum and Kevin show me a notorious dumping spot on waste ground behind flats and shops.

Festering rubbish dumped behind shops and flats in Wellesley Road, Methil. Image: Michael Alexander

The shrubbery is foul with bags of stinking rubbish and pungent waste.

Fife Council safer communities officer Callum Houston shows dereliction and dumping behind shops and flats in Methil. Image: Michael Alexander

But an issue over land ownership means there’s a problem getting it cleared. While prevention is better than cure, when it comes to pavements, there’s also an issue where cuts to council budgets have had a knock-on effect.

“The council used to have mechanical sweepers, but cutbacks got rid of them,” adds Kevin.

Roadside litter teams often pick up ‘tins of juice and bottles of p*ss’

There’s a brief stop to chat with David Donaldson and Ian Waddell who happen to be passing with the roadside litter team.

There are two teams in Fife that have got the proper training to work next to roads where traffic travels at more than 40mph.

David Donaldson and Ian Waddell of Fife Council’s roadside litter team. Image: Michael Alexander

They give an insight into some of the materials they clean up. This is thrown from vehicles on the A92, including “tins of juice and bottles of p*ss”.

However, we have no sooner left when a “priority call” comes in to deal with a loud music complaint just down the road.

Fife Council safer communities officers Callum Houston and Kevin Wright deal with a complaint about loud music in Levenmouth. Image: Michael Alexander

We about turn, and Kevin and Callum speak firmly yet diplomatically to the flat dweller who agrees to turn his music down.

Fly-tipping raises concerns back in Cupar

As Kevin is called away to help Police Scotland clean up the aftermath of a recent drugs raid, I continue back to Cupar with Callum where a report has been received of illegal fly tipping in Bonnygate Car Park.

For an illegal dump like this there has to be corroboration, so Callum meets up with Fiona, another safer communities officer.

Fife Council safer communities officer Callum Houston and colleague Fiona McKenzie searching for evidence in illegally dumped rubbish next to bins at Bonnygate Car Park, Cupar. Image: Michael Alexander

Putting on their gloves, they go through the bags of materials dumped next to the recycling point.

They find several envelopes containing a name and address of the potential perpetrator. Collecting it as evidence and taking photos, their next task will be to go to that address to seek an explanation.

While some will argue that limited access to the Cupar recycling centre at Coal Road, run by Serco, is leading to a rise in fly-tipping, there is no excuse. The perpetrator could face a £500 fine for illegal dumping.