ANTHONY Ashurst never knows quite what’s waiting for him on a working day. It might be a severed goat’s head, a pile of used needles, or maggot-ridden roadkill.

Sounds grim? Well, perhaps surprisingly, Anthony loves his job as a cleansing operative for Craven District Council.

He’s used to dealing with garbage, though – he worked as a bin man in Craven for more than 20 years before starting this job five years ago.

Anthony’s patch ranges over a huge area, from Gargrave and Malham to Tosside, Settle and Ingleton; he covers between 350 to 400 miles a week.

Beginning work at 7am, he checks his van and sets off on his round, litter-picking, emptying bins and dealing with any fly-tipping that may have been discovered.

“I love this job,” he says. “On the dustbins you meet the same people every week but on here there’s no two days the same. For some people it’s probably a bit monotonous but I think it’s brilliant because you’re not seeing the same thing day in day out.

“There is usually even more to be done in the summer but this year so far there’s not really been a quiet time. A lot of stuff’s being dumped in laybys. That means there’s not so much time for litter-picking.

“Just recently I picked up two double mattresses and a single mattress, sofas and two fridge freezers, all dumped on a hillside. There seems to be a lot more fly-tipping now.”

There have also been some unusual discoveries. “We used to find goats’ heads on Settle bypass for a while,” says Anthony cheerfully. He reassures me this wasn’t part of a ritual sacrifice – just butchers dumping the unwanted parts of the animal.

Then there was the iguana. Yes, really. “Once someone found an iguana dumped in a cardboard box,” says Anthony. “If it had still been alive it would have been worth thousands. Every time I go somewhere where there’s a cardboard box now I’m a bit wary in case there’s something inside! I always check now before I pick it up.

“We find all sorts, pots, pans, car tyres, you find that sort of stuff every day, TVs, piping, a lot of clothes,” he says.

“Any dead animals, we pick them up as well, badgers, rabbits, deer, I don’t mind doing it when it’s fresh but when it’s been run over a few times by a 40 tonne truck it’s a bit of a mess. I found one, it looked all right on the top side but I lifted it up with a shovel and there were thousands of maggots on the underneath. That sort of thing puts you off your breakfast a bit.

“We found a deer in the road not long ago – it took two of us to lift it into the back.”

But Anthony, 47, says he wasn’t tempted to take it home for dinner. “I think my wife would go off and running if I brought something like that home,” he says.

Anthony reckons he empties about 430 bins every week – mostly public litter bins, although he also visits some private homes where it’s not viable for the bin lorries to get to. He’s also become a dab hand with the litter-picker. “I’ve mastered these but I’ve not mastered chopsticks yet,” he says.

Residents and visitors do appreciate his work, which is a bonus. “It’s nice to get people coming to say thank you very much, you’ve done a good job. I often get people saying what a good job I do, I think it’s very nice that,” he says.

“I do enjoy what I do. I know everyone has off days but I don’t have many bad days. We’re making it better for the people that live here. You know you’re actually doing something good for the community. What I’m doing, hopefully is being recognised and people appreciate it.”

It does get a bit cold in winter, but Anthony doesn’t complain. “I get bad if I’ve been stood about, but I can usually keep warm. If it’s that bad, I’ll just put an extra coat on,” he says. “The toughest day is Monday, because I’ve got to do every bin on Monday, so you’re always in and out of the van. But you get there in the end.”

There’s only one thing he doesn’t like dealing with – drug paraphernalia. “Last year I found nine needles within a matter of six weeks. That’s the only bit I really don’t like about the job,” he says.

But there’s plenty to make up for it. “The stuff you see is fantastic,” says Anthony. “When I come out of Settle I often see deer running out of the woods. Some days it’ll be glorious, blue skies, not a breath of wind, some days it’s blowing a gale. Sometimes you see hot air balloons coming across.

“Because I’ve got a fairly positive outlook on life that helps. I suppose a lot of people would get fed up doing this job, but I think it’s brilliant. I love driving and you’ve got these views – what more could I ask for?”