WASTE enforcement officers working for Cork County Council may use European Space Agency (ESA) satellites to identify illegal dumps.
The council has submitted proposals to the ESA to use its satellites to add to its current use of helicopters for aerial reconnaissance and covert cameras which are placed at known illegal dumping blackspots.
More than 150 illegal scrapyards have been closed down by the enforcement team in the past four years, according to information released by the local authority's waste enforcement department.
Despite the considerable size of County Cork - 7,454 km² - the small team of dedicated professionals have had a remarkable amount of success.
The enforcement team consists of seven professional staff, three engineers and two scientists, supported by two administrative staff. They sift through approximately 1,000 complaints from the public each year.
During their most recent raids on unauthorised sites the department - in co-operation with other agencies including the Garda and Department of Social Welfare - seized three truckloads of scrap from Charleville.
The raid, a little over a week ago, also resulted in gardaí seizing a number of weapons, including slashhooks, meat cleavers and baseball bats studded with nails.
A spokesman for the county council said the waste enforcement team contracts a private helicopter operator on a number of occasions annually, to undertake aerial surveillance operations.
However, the spokesman said for "operational reasons" he wouldn't reveal the number of flights mounted each year.
But he said the strategy has proven very successful in targeting forbidden waste activities, and, in particular, illegal scrapped car sites.
Normally the helicopter pilot, accompanied by two waste enforcement officers, operates a three-hour flight on each occasion and visits predetermined sites selected as potential targets through intelligence-gathering.
These surveillance operations were the subject of one episode of the television series Enforcers, broadcast on RTÉ last year.
In addition, the waste enforcement team is using covert cameras at a number of "dumping blackspot sites".
Its first successful prosecution in the courts using covert camera footage was taken two years ago when three defendants were fined €1,000 each for illegal dumping in Mitchelstown.
There are 17 Authorised Treatment Facilities (ATFs) for scrap recovery in the county and a further five dedicated solely to scrapping old cars.
While trying to clean up the environment, the enforcement team's role is also to create "a level playing pitch" so that authorised dealers are not undercut and threatened with closure due to the activities of illegal cowboy operators.