Satellite technology is being developed to track down and stop a crime wave that is costing the UK an estimated £1bn a year.

Illegal dumping of waste has been called the new narcotics, with profits said to rival that of the drugs trade.

Now satellite imaging is so advanced that vast areas of the countryside, hidden from ground view and therefore perfect for fly tipping, can be scanned in detail; and illegal dumps, even if they are buried, can be discovered.

Retired geography professor Ray Harris is one of those behind the technique.

He said: It doesn’t tell us where every single waste site is, it just narrows down the possibilities.

We’re looking for a needle in a haystack but we’re trying to get rid of the haystack and that reveals where the needle might be.

Mr Harris believes that, as word spreads among the fly tippers, they will become more wary.

The more this technology is used the greater the deterrent will be for criminals.

They’ll think: ‘Oh I can’t just hide this big waste pile in my back garden because I’ve got to look upwards and think I’m going to be surveyed from the sky’.

Dumping waste legally is not cheap – a single skip can cost you hundreds of pounds to get rid of and, for criminal gangs with access to land, that presents the potential to make big money by undercutting legitimate businesses.

Jack Goodman, who runs a waste site in east London, said disposing of the rubbish deposited there every year costs his business around £250,000.

The criminals are so brazen they even rip off legal dumps, he added.

We’ve had incidences where they come in (and said) ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s fine we’ll use the weigh bridge’.

They tip and just drive out, speed off.

To add insult to injury, his business then has to pay to dispose of the criminals’ waste.

We’re out of pocket because they’ve tipped and literally sped off.

We try to stop them but you can’t jump in front of the lorry so there’s not really much you can do.

But illegal tipping is not just about money – it ruins lives as well.

Jan Watkins from Orpington lives near to what used to be a legitimate dump.

It broke its licence and allowed too much waste to be disposed of, prompting the council to close it.

The council is still in the process of clearing the site but have had to put the clean-up on hold because toxic material has been discovered in the waste.

It was taller than the trees, Mrs Watkins said of the waste.

There was a telephone pole that was 50 feet high and the rubbish was almost as high as that.

It wasn’t just an eyesore, at its peak the flies were unbelievable, the smells were absolutely dreadful.

You couldn’t open the doors and windows in the summer.

If the satellite, Spy In The Sky, does what its developers and the Environment Agency hopes then illegal tipping may be looking less profitable.

(c) Sky News 2017: New satellite technology may mean fly tipping days are numbered