Scenic tour that finds the ugly side of rural life

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The Independent Online
Countryside officers agreed that it was a good idea. They would show everyone the true rural picture. And so one of the most unlikely sightseeing tours began.

Five people caught the mini-bus outside the rangers' office at Ulley Country Park in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, to follow a route of burnt- out cars, mounds of rubbish and graffiti marring the town's beauty spots.

"It's not just a problem in Rotherham, it's a national one. But we are the ones who have decided to highlight what's going on," Rick Green, the environmental officer who drove the bus, said. "It's a chance for people to see and understand some of our problems and discuss ideas for dealing with them."

He pulled in at a lay-by opposite Treeton Woods. "It's beautiful here. Calm and ideal for bird watching," he said as the group made its way through the undergrowth.

But just a few feet away was the burnt-out shell of a car. "How anyone managed to get it through the woods in the first place is a mystery to me," said Mr Green. "And it's going to cost us a fortune to get it out."

The youngest of the tour group, Steve Malone, 15, shrugged his shoulders at the sight. "It's not something I or anyone I know would do for fun, but young people would probably get the blame."

Two infant-school teachers trailed behind as the group headed for Bole Hill Plantation. "I know our children would be horrified to see this," Samina Qureshi said. "I think our countryside officers are preaching to the converted on this tour. It's up to us to spread the word."

Bole Hill Plantation is a reclaimed spoil heap where hundreds of young trees have been planted over the last few years. Fire, deliberately set, has ravaged many of them.

"An older woodland may have regenerated, but these young trees wouldn't stand much chance ... we will have to replant," Mr Green said.

Then it was on to Whiston Meadows, where a new parking area is often as a rubbish dump. Small metal notices with rangers' telephone numbers fixed to gate posts have been used as targets by airgun users.

A short walk along a footpath and over a stream leads to a picnic area. Among the dense trees which surround the area a man with a spade is bent over filling a sack with top soil.

"If everyone did that we would be in real trouble," said Mr Green. "It wouldn't be a good idea to have a word with him now. I don't know how he might react and I must think of the safety of the group."

The sight seekers went elsewhere for their picnic lunch.