Half a million pounds is being spent clearing up after fly tippers, new figures have revealed.

Councils across Sussex had to respond to more than 11,000 cases of illegal dumping in one year, prompting fears "professional fly tippers" were operating in the region.

Men in vans and lorries claiming to be contractors who dispose of household waste are regularly tipping trash onto the Sussex Downs, the Countryside Alliance said.

In a new report, called Tipping Point, the rural lobbyists suggest fly tipping is one of the most widespread problems facing the countryside.

Councils had to spend more than £540,000 clearing up after the culprits between April 2005 and March 2006.

With the problem not just restricted to the countryside, Brighton and Hove City Council alone had to spend £105,000.

But farmers said they too were also having to pick up the cost.

Mike Martin, of Warningore Farm (CORR), Plumpton, said he often has to hire skips to collect the mess fly tippers were leaving on his land.

He said: "We've had tyres, fridges, garden waste, everything the council would charge you to dump.

"Some days you get one load and it just accumulates. We even get big tipper lorries. It happened once next door and they blocked a whole lane off with rubbish.

"We often have to pay for skips to get rid of it but it costs everyone in a way."

Michelle Nudds, South East regional director of the Countryside Alliance, said the Sussex Downs was being preyed upon by illegal dumpers, often posing as legitimate rubbish collectors.

She said: "Many people believe that fly tipping is something they can get away with and that the victim is faceless. This is nonsense.

"But the biggest problems we have here are in countryside lanes and on the South Downs.

"Household rubbish as well as more industrial material all ends up dumped on the Downs. It's quite an obvious choice for dumpers because it's possible to pull into a lay-by and just throw it over a hedge.

"But at a time when we are trying to promote the Sussex Downs as a tourist attraction, it's a great shame."

National Fly Tipping Awareness Week begins on Monday. Less than 100 cases lead to prosecution yet illegal dumping costs councils across the UK almost £100 million.

Fly tippers can now be fined £50,000 or given six months imprisonment.

The Countryside Alliance is now launching a public consultation to discuss the issue at www.countryside-alliance.org.uk.

Is an area near where you live a constant target for fly tippers? Leave locations and comments below.