Littering

The Starlight Trust is an animal welfare and rescue organisation based in Surrey

On 12th July 2016, Sarah was issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice for littering while attempting to rescue injured pigeons in Sutton High Street. The full story can be read in our complaint letter to the council here.

We then received the following response from Sutton Council

On 19 July 2016 at 11:11, Jan Gransden wrote:
Dear Sirs,

I write further to your letter of complaint about the issuing of a fixed penalty notice for littering to Sarah Argrave, a Starlight Trust volunteer, who was witnessed feeding pigeons in Sutton High Street.

Sutton Council is committed to tackling the problem of littering in order to keep Sutton clean. The feeding of pigeons is deemed to be littering within the relevant legislation. Pigeon feeding by the public attracts pigeons to an area and results in more and more pigeons and increased breeding. In Sutton High Street pigeons have become a nuisance caused by excessive droppings which are not only unsightly, but can cause problems by making pavements slippery, particularly in wet weather and result in increased street cleansing costs for the council. In addition excessive droppings also can also corrode stonework and damage buildings.

I have reviewed the circumstances of this case and on this occasion the Council is prepared to cancel the fixed penalty notice. However I must stress that this a ‘one off’ cancellation and any future fixed penalty notices issued to anyone for feeding pigeons by dropping bird feed on the ground will not be rescinded. The Council would urge any person(s) undertaking welfare or rescue work and using feeding to attract injured birds, to contact either the Council or Successful Sutton beforehand in order to prevent further fixed penalty notices being issued under similar circumstances.

Yours faithfully

Jan Gransden
Group Manager Enforcement
Kingston & Sutton Shared Environment Service
Denmark Road/Carshalton/Surrey/SM5 2JG
020 8770 5550 (Sutton)
020 8547 5513 (Kingston)
07736 338315 (Mobile)
Email: jan.gransden@sutton.gov.uk

www.sutton.gov.uk

Whilst pleased with the cancellation, we remained concerned so responded as per below

On 19 July 2016 at 17:12, Starlight Trust wrote:

Jan

We are pleased to hear of the decision to cancel the notice, though we remain disappointed in Sutton Council’s attitude in this regard. I assume the legislation to which you refer is the Environmental Protection Act – this makes no mention of bird feeding as being littering, indeed it states that an offence is only committed when something is left which causes defacement which responsible bird feeding would not do.

We entirely support efforts to reduce litter but it is clearly a stretch to try and manipulate litter legislation to cover the feeding of birds where the food is fully eaten. We understand concerns about pigeon numbers and droppings and yes, feeding can increase numbers, but we feel this would be far better approached through education and working with the public rather than heavy handed attacks on those who find pleasure in caring for wildlife. Certainly, those seen feeding birds should be spoken to and asked to stop rather than threatened with prosecution which seems only to serve the purpose of lining the pockets of the contracted company.

The contractor clearly operated outside of the published guidelines in this case and I hope that this will be discussed with them to temper their approach in future.

As requests for help with injured birds are often urgent matters and can be made outside of business hours, it would clearly not be practicable for rescue groups to seek permission in advance for every case. I hope we can come to a sensible arrangement in this regard for the future, perhaps with us providing you with a list of names of those who might undertake such work for us and you providing an undertaking that those individuals will not be targeted? All our volunteers act responsibly at all times by only using the necessary quantities of food and not leaving anything behind which could be considered litter.

I look forward to your further response

Sarah Argrave
The Starlight Trust

Meanwhile, the story was covered by the local Guardian both online here and in print here

A week later we received another pretty bland response

On 26 July 2016 at 14:26, Jan Gransden wrote:
Dear Ms Argrave,

I refer to my previous response.

The feeding of pigeons in Sutton High Street is causing a nuisance to the public with excessive numbers and excessive droppings. The Council frequently receives complaints about flocks of pigeons which pester people for food and soil pavements, street furniture and buildings. The Council has tried education on a number of occasions including putting up signage in the High Street without success as the feeding is continuing and attracting pigeons to the area.

I will again reiterate that this is a one off cancellation of the fixed penalty notice and again advise that any person(s) undertaking rescue work and using feeding to attract injured birds to contact either the Council or Successful Sutton beforehand to prevent further fixed penalty notices being issued under similar circumstances.

Yours sincerely

Jan Gransden
Group Manager Enforcement
Kingston & Sutton Shared Environment Service
Denmark Road/Carshalton/Surrey/SM5 2JG
020 8770 5550 (Sutton)
020 8547 5513 (Kingston)
07736 338315 (Mobile)
Email: jan.gransden@sutton.gov.uk

www.sutton.gov.uk

We weren’t willing to just let this go. This was bigger than just our case. This was the council targeting pigeon feeding and twisting littering legislation to suit their agenda. The fact is there is no law against feeding pigeons and the council are relying on people’s naivety to bully them.

On 1 August 2016 at 20:54, Starlight Trust wrote:
Jan

There were a number of questions and issues I raised in my complaint and the follow up email which remain unresolved. I am deeply concerned about the approach being taken by the council which does not seem to me to be within the law. I would be grateful if you could respond fully to my questions or, if you are unable to provide the answers, I’d be grateful if you could refer my email to a supervisor or someone who can.

You state in your original response “The feeding of pigeons is deemed to be littering within the relevant legislation.” I have reviewed the legislation and I cannot see any reference to feeding pigeons being littering. As mentioned in my complaint, the legislation appears to require certain conditions to be met for something to constitute littering namely that the material is left and that it contributes to defacement. I certainly accept that putting down excessive quantities of food which were not eaten could be littering under this definition but it does not appear to apply where small quantities of food which are consumed by the birds are given out.

Question 1 – Under what legislation is pigeon feeding described as littering and how does this apply when the food is entirely eaten?

I also raised concerns that the officers representing Sutton Council in this matter had not operated in accordance with the guidance on issuing fixed penalty notices in the following regards
– the issuing of a notice was not proportionate
– there was no evidence to support a prosecution
– the ‘offence’ was trivial
– there was no evidence of intent to drop litter
– no opportunity was given to pick up the ‘litter’ before a fine was issued

Given that the scheme is, presumably, funded by the revenue obtained by fixed penalty notices, there seems to be a high risk of disproportionate action taken to ensure NSL achieve revenue targets. I am lucky that I am confident enough to challenge my treatment but other, more vulnerable people might not be able to do so.

Question 2 – What steps will Sutton Council take to monitor the issuing of fixed penalty notices by NSL to ensure that they comply with the government issued guidance?

Question 3 – Has an Equality Impact Assessment been undertaken as regards this scheme to ensure that vulnerable people, especially those with mental health issues, are not disproportionately affected?

I further raised that the officers had demonstrated a misunderstanding of the law in two regards. Firstly they claimed that action was not possible against those caught littering who are under 18, secondly that pigeons were ‘classed as vermin’ which made it an offence to feed them. At best this is ignorance, at worst a deliberate misrepresentation to further their attempts to get money out of me.

Question 4 – What steps will Sutton Council be taking to ensure that officers claiming to enforce the law on their behalf have a full and correct understanding of that law?

Finally, you stated in your response that animal rescuers should contact the council before using food to rescue animals. I pointed out the impracticalities of this in my response but this was just reiterated in your follow up. There are at least four organisations operating within Sutton who might use food in this way. It is entirely disproportionate to expect them to ‘gain permission’ in advance each time they need to rescue an animal. Nor, in my view, has Sutton Council demonstrated any legal justification for this demand.

Question 5 – On what legal basis does Sutton Council insist that animal rescuers seek permission before using food to rescue animals?
Question 6 – What are the contact details of the individual/s they should contact, bearing in mind that most groups operate 24/7?
Question 7 – To what species does this apply?
Question 8 – To what food stuffs does this apply?
Question 9 – To what areas of the borough does this apply?

I look forward to receiving a more considered response

Sarah Argrave
The Starlight Trust

We will update further once we receive a response.

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