On The Beat With Leith’s Environmental Wardens

Litter and dog poo are not the sexiest of subjects, but they’re ones that command a good deal of space in most Councillors’ mailboxes.

Dog poo in particular is something that makes a lot of people’s blood boil – mine included. Those who don’t clean up after their dog are allowing a toxic landmine to be planted for every passing toddler or visually impaired citizen – indeed anyone momentarily distracted from the ground immediately in front of them. And that’s before we consider the risk of exposure to Toxocariasis parasites.

My loathing of irresponsible dog owners led me to spend some time on the beat with Leith’s Environmental Wardens. These are the hard-working and often unsung heroes of the constant battle against grime and garbage in our neighbourhoods. They patrol the streets seeking out litter, fly-tipping, graffiti and dog mess and dealing with it. Without their hard work our streets would soon be awash with detritus.

My morning with Willie, Leith’s local warden, was certainly illuminating. We visited a park where litter had been reported, and Willie soon found a broken bottle discarded by street drinkers, which was duly placed in the nearest bin. The remaining rubbish was too much for one warden and his temporary assistant (me) to deal with, so Willie made a note to call in the local street cleaning team when he was back in the office. Phones or PDAs issued to wardens would speed up this process, but pressure on budgets don’t yet allow these.

Next stop was the domestic bins across the road from the park, where residents had complained commercial waste was being dumped. A pile of flattened cardboard boxes suggested we had found the evidence, until we noticed a small yellow sticker which showed it was in fact due to be collected by a commercial waste company. Willie pointed to the adjacent commercial bin which had no indication which business it served. Identifying the business would help Environmental Wardens to keep the streets clean, yet commercial companies have consistently refused to label their bins.

We moved on to a close near the Foot o’ the Walk. One resident noticed Willie’s uniform and came over to talk: “I don’t want to be nosey but my kids have found needles in the stair.” She explained how the lack of any security at the tenement door had led to the common steps being used as a ‘shooting gallery’, with discarded syringes left for young children to discover. On inspection, plenty of evidence of drug use was found, but no syringes on this occasion. Willie agreed to step up his patrols, and I agreed to write to the Head of Housing in the council asking for a door entry system to be installed. Preventing young children from being exposed to such risk of harm must surely be an essential role of the Council?

Finally we walked back to the Foot o’ the Walk, where Willie noticed some dog walkers picking up after their pets. When we caught up with them, Willie thanked them warmly. If only all Leith’s dog owners were so public spirited!