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Visitors to Bat Yam tempted to follow a wooden sign pointing to "an urban nature site" were bound for disappointment. Though the sign touted the city's efforts in preserving its last natural coastal strip and "the little that remains of the sandy beaches and sandstone cliffs," the site - like many in Israel today - is actually buried under heaps of trash.

The hill in question, which was part of a landfill some decades ago, was more recently restored to its natural state by the Bat Yam municipality and the Environmental Protection Ministry. Once the restoration work was complete, it was officially proclaimed the city's sole urban nature reserve.

Since then, several wild animals and 48 species of birds have been seen at the site, which also plays host to a great variety of wild flora.

In recent weeks, however, the nature reserve appears to have slipped back to its previous state, residents told Haaretz, with large piles of trash overrunning its eastern and southern sections. One resident, who only identified himself as Y.S., said he has been monitoring the site's upkeep for some time and reported the waste dumping to the municipality.

The municipality said in response that the reserve had been the site of several metal theft attempts in recent weeks, with the thieves operating heavy machinery that unearthed and scattered the waste still buried underneath the ground.

"The offenders were arrested and handed restraining orders," the municipality's statement said. "Municipal inspectors are constantly monitoring this issue.

Y.S, for his part, insisted to Haaretz that he has seen trucks full of waste entering the site and later exiting empty. "A dirt road was set up to ease the access for dumpers," he said. The heaps of trash appear to be outside the borders of the old landfill area, he added.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said inspectors discovered that someone had been digging into the old landfill, but because this did not constitute illegal dumping since the waste was already there, the matter was transferred to the care of the local municipality.

The ministry also said that it received a separate complaint of illegal dumping on the site some three days ago and that the matter was being investigated.