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Socially distant but always on duty – using technology to catch waste criminals

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Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is using high-tech surveillance techniques to tackle unscrupulous waste operators seeking to take advantage of the Coronavirus crisis.

Government guidelines on social distancing mean NRW officers are unable to use their usual investigation methods. As such, they have turned to sophisticated drone technology and satellite cameras to help in the tracking of waste criminals.

The new approach includes:

• Using drone footage to investigate illegal waste disposal.
• Participating and benefiting from research and tools created in partnership with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency through the Life SMART Waste Project.
• Trialling the use of satellite imagery obtained from the European Space Agency, as well as high resolution commercial satellite data.
• Adrian Evans, head of NRW’s Tackling Waste Crime initiative, explained:

“Social distancing is impacting on how companies supplying goods and services operate and waste criminals are taking advantage of this.

“We have had to modify our ways of working by developing technological solutions to support our work and ensure that waste operators comply with environmental regulations.

“This technology will ensure the environment of Wales is protected for the people who live here and for legitimate waste operators who abide by the rules and work in a responsible manner.

”Those hoping to exploit the lockdown restrictions to commit waste crime should think again. We have the capability and technology to continue to identify and pursue those that flout the law.”

This type of surveillance is already underway in south east Wales, where NRW and Gwent Police are using drones to investigate illegal activity.

PC Matt Andrews, who, as part of Gwent Police’s Rural Crime team, is the embedded officer with NRW and assists the South East Wales Operations team in tackling all types off illegal activity, said:

“During lockdown our waste team continues to have close communications with permitted waste sites, but we’ve also strived to find alternative ways to having boots on the ground.

“Drone work has helped us investigate illegal activity in remote locations while adhering to the social distancing guidelines.

“For example, the imagery can be used to identify the extent of illegal tipping on land which would normally take two NRW waste officers to physically investigate.”

The public and businesses can help by reporting any suspected illegal waste activity on our hotline 0300 065 3000.

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Farming

Funding for agri-plastics research

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THE USE of plastics in agriculture has improved food production and food security in many countries. It has also left a legacy of plastic pollution on agricultural land.

A new multinational research project working with five low and middle-income countries (LMICs) and funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council will search for ways to resolve the plastic pollution caused by adopting plastics as cheap and readily available mulch layers, and for other uses.

It will have the dual focus of addressing current problems and setting up legacies to enable future generations to engage with the situation.

The UK Research & Innovation Award sees three Bangor University experts, Professors Davey Jones Dave Chadwick and Peter Golyshin of the University’s School of Natural Resources working with research groups from the Universities of Bristol and Reading in the UK, and soil scientists, socio-economic researchers, advisor and farmer networks, agri-industries and regional governments in China, Egypt, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

The five countries selected are at differing points in tackling their acute problems with agricultural plastics.

Together, these countries use 3 million tonnes of agricultural plastic film each year, covering 25 million hectares of agricultural land. They also span a wide range of climates and possess different governance structures.

As well as quantifying the risks posed by the plastics currently in the soil, the teams at each location will co-design practical, economic, socially acceptable and politically viable solutions specific to the needs and problems of their country to reduce plastic legacy.

The focus for Davey Jones, Professor of Soil Science is to investigate the impacts that conventional macro, micro and nano-plastics that are degrading within soils pose to the long-term health of agricultural ecosystems.

He said: “These plastics have wrought significant improvements. The use of plastic mulch films, in particular, has transformed the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers across the world. The use of plastic for such purposes should continue, alongside the continued development of sustainable agriculture.

“But the fate and disposal of plastics have never been properly addressed. We need to know what impact these widely used materials are having on the environment and on human health.”

Dave Chadwick, Professor of Sustainable Land Use Systems, said: “Plastic pollution is identified by the UN Environmental Programme as one of the top 10 global environmental problems and is hampering achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“Most of the ocean’s plastic originates from the land- and terrestrial plastic may be a larger problem than we realise.

“We want to work in partnership and co-deliver viable solutions to help remediate lands contaminated with plastic. We also want to ensure that the projects have a legacy so that tools, technology and partnerships which develop persist beyond the end of the project, and can be shared with others.”

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Director of the Natural Environment Research Council, said: “Pollution caused by plastic waste is one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges, and UKRI is at the forefront of funding research to find solutions.

“These awards totalling £20 million are a vital step in helping world-leading researchers develop realistic and feasible solutions to reduce plastic pollution while enabling equitable, sustainable growth.

“Our investment in international development research aims to positively impact the lives of millions of people across the world and supports global efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

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Self Assessment customers warned about scammers posing as HMRC

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SELF ASSESSMENT customers should be alert to criminals claiming to be from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

As the department issues thousands of SMS messages and emails as part of its annual Self Assessment tax return push, HMRC is warning customers completing their returns to take care to avoid being caught out by scammers. The annual tax return deadline is on 31 January 2021.

The department knows that fraudsters use calls, emails or texts to contact customers. In the last 12 months, HMRC has responded to more than 846,000 referrals of suspicious HMRC contact from the public, and reported over 15,500 malicious web pages to internet service providers to be taken down. Almost 500,000 of the referrals from the public offered bogus tax rebates.

Many scams target customers to inform them of a fake ‘tax rebate’ or ‘tax refund’ they are due. The imposters use language intended to convince them to hand over personal information, including bank details, in order to claim the ‘refund’. Criminals will use this information to access customers’ bank accounts, trick them into paying fictitious tax bills, or sell on their personal information to other criminals.

HMRC’s Interim Director General for Customer Services, Karl Khan, said: “We know that criminals take advantage of the Self Assessment deadline to panic customers into sharing their personal or financial details and even paying bogus ‘tax due’.

“If someone calls, emails or texts claiming to be from HMRC, offering financial help or asking for money, it might be a scam. Please take a moment to think before parting with any private information or money.”

Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, said: “Criminals are experts at impersonating organisations that we know and trust. We work closely with HMRC to raise awareness of current scams and encourage people to report any suspicious calls or messages they receive, even if they haven’t acted on them, to the relevant channels. This information is crucial in disrupting criminal activity and is already helping HMRC take down fraudulent websites being used to facilitate fraud.

“It’s important to remember if you’re contacted out the blue by someone purporting to be from HMRC asking for your personal or financial details, or offering you a tax rebate, grant or refund, this could be a scam. Do not respond, hang up the phone, and take care not to click on any links in unexpected emails or text messages. You should contact HMRC directly using a phone number you’ve used before to check if the communication you have received is genuine.

“If you’ve been the victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and please report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.”

Customers can report suspicious activity to HMRC at phishing@hmrc.gov.uk and texts to 60599. They can also report phone scams online on GOV.UK.

HMRC is also warning the public to be aware of websites that charge for government services – such as call connection sites – that are in fact free or charged at local call rates. Other companies charge people for help getting ‘tax refunds’. One way to safely claim a tax refund for free is to log into your Personal Tax Account.

HMRC has a dedicated Customer Protection team that identifies and closes down scams but asks the public to recognise the signs to avoid becoming a victim. HMRC regularly publishes examples of new scams on GOV.UK to help customers recognise phishing emails and bogus contact by email, text or phone.

Ways to spot a tax scam

It could be a scam if it:

·       is unexpected

·       offers a refund, tax rebate or grant

·       asks for personal information like bank details

·       is threatening

·       tells you to transfer money.

Self Assessment customers can complete their tax return online and help and support is available on GOV.UK.

To protect against identity fraud customers must verify their identity when accessing HMRC’s online services. They must have two sources of information including:

·       credit reference agency data

·       tax credits

·       P60/payslip

·       UK Passport

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BHF Cymru calls for stock donations before Christmas

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BRITISH HEART FOUNDATION Cymru’s home store in Llanelli is appealing to the local community to donate their unwanted items before Christmas.

The charity shop on Vaughan Street has reopened following the recent ‘firebreak lockdown’ and desperately needs stock to help raise funds for life saving research. During the pandemic and the town’s local lockdowns BHF Cymru has missed the local community’s generous donations of preloved items such as sofas, beds, kitchenware and dining furniture.

Richard Jones manager of the home store appealed for local people doing a pre-Christmas clear out at home to make a donation. Every item sold will be turned into funds for research that could help transform the lives of the 340,000 people in Wales living with heart and circulatory diseases.

 “Like all charity shops this year has been a tough one for us,” said Richard. “We’re back open now and our staff and volunteers are here to welcome our customers safely into the store. Our free collections service is now back up and running, with Covid-secure measures in place and is available to book online. We are more than happy to receive any quality unwanted furniture, electrical and homewares so we can continue to raise money in support of our lifesaving research.”

“It’s easy to donate and depending on your preference, our van crews will either collect from your room of choice, your doorstep or an alternative safe access point. All collections will be signature free.”

British Heart Foundation open a new Home Store in St David’s Retail Park in Swansea. © WALES NEWS SERVICE

The coronavirus crisis has had a devastating impact on the BHF’s income, leading to a potential £50 million cut in research funding and the delay of important scientific breakthroughs. It is now urgently asking the local community to support it by simply donating good quality items that they have been clearing out while at home.

Head of BHF Cymru Adam Fletcher said: “We currently fund £3m into research in Wales to help prevent, treat and cure heart and circulatory diseases.  Every pound raised in our shops helps us to support the 340,000 people in Wales living with heart and circulatory diseases, many of whom are at increased risk from Covid-19. Shopping at the BHF, or donating your quality items will help us, help them.” 

Store Opening Cwmbran

BHF shops and stores have measures in place to keep staff, volunteers and customers safe. Customers will also be able to donate items at contact-free donation points set up at BHF shop entrances.  

The BHF home store is located Vaughan Street in Llanelli. To contact the store please call 01554 528730

To book a free collection visit https://www.bhf.org.uk/shop/donating-goods/book-furniture-collection-near-me

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