Shopping trolleys dumped in a river, a dirty mattress slung out in the street and a pile of burned out tyres ditched on the roadside.

A blight on our countryside and towns, these are sights that have become all too common in every corner of the country.

Fly-tipping is a national disgrace that is costing the taxpayer £72 per minute, with a new incident occurring every 12 seconds.

Dumping rubbish wherever they like, a selfish minority are breaking the law and ruining the landscape for everyone else.

They are draining local authority budgets of £100m a year, with 2.5 million incidents dumping recorded in 2005-06.

It is a faceless crime that all too often goes undetected. Just one in 100 cases leads to prosecution.

The picture in Hampshire makes depressing reading, with 44,093 incidents of fly-tipping, which cost £1,717,837.84 to clear up.

The Daily Echo recently reported that the River Itchen - one of England's premier chalk streams for fly fishing - has become strewn with junk.

The figures - which do not include the huge number of incidents that go unreported or those on private land - have been released by the Countryside Alliance to expose the true extent of the problem.

This week is National Fly-tipping Awareness Week.

"Many people believe that fly-tipping is something they can get away with and that the victim is faceless. This is nonsense," said Sara Rutherford, southern regional director for the pressure group.

"If you fly-tip on private land the owner gets the stress of clearing it up and the bill. If you fly-tip on public land the taxpayer gets the bill. In both instances you are ruining the beauty of the countryside for everyone."

Aiming to spark a national debate about the growing problem, the awareness week forms part of the alliance's "Fly-tipping - Scrap It" campaign.

"By raising awareness of this problem we hope to generate a healthy sense of outrage across the UK - because only then can we stop the problem and finally scrap fly-tipping," said chief executive Simon Hart.

The group is keen to stress that it is not blaming local authorities, as many are doing what they can to counter the problem.

The government gave local authorities more powers in 2005. Penalties for fly-tipping include a fine of up to £50,000 at a magistrates' court and or an unlimited fine at a Crown Court, and/or a prison sentence.

However, the existing legislation - the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 - is not working.

"What motivates fly-tippers appears to be a careless attitude by those who would never dream of breaking the law in any other way - and this is something we must work to change," added Mr Hart.

"Fly-tipping may even seem an increasingly appealing option if households start being charged by the amount of rubbish they produce (bin-tax') - so the situation could get worse before it gets better."

A key problem is that gathering evidence against the perpetrators is notoriously difficult.

Last year there were just 24,460 prosecutions across the country, despite 76,428 hours of surveillance undertaken by local authorities.

Of these prosecutions there were just eight custodial sentences, 44 community service rulings and 120 absolute or conditional discharges.

Fly-tipped waste can pose a threat to people and wildlife, as well as damaging the environment and delicate natural eco-systems.

"It is a major issue for us," said Dennis Garratt, head of conservation at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

"People throw stuff into the reserves continually, wherever there is a bit of a lay-by or a gateway. There are no hot spots - it just happens anywhere.

"It is a big problem in Hampshire.

"There is a large urban population and people are dumping things they could take to the council tip or put in their bins as well as stuff they can't.

"We are a charity and we have to spend quite a lot of money on skips to clear it away."

The Countryside Alliance has embarked on a six-month consultation period to gather information and look at how local authorities can support landowners to address the mess. It aims to have compiled a set of proposals by August to combat fly-tipping.

With a recent poll finding that 74 per cent of people believe that fly-tipping is a bigger abuse of the countryside than poly tunnels, light pollution or wind farms, it cannot come a moment too soon.