When Paul Dainton applied to the Environment Agency to see what personal information the organisation kept on him, he received 300 pages of documents.
Many were blacked out due to "commercial confidentiality", says the campaigner against a landfill tip in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
But they did include local newspaper cuttings about his missing budgerigar.
Access to information covered by range of regulations
Mr Dainton, who is campaigning against a landfill site in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, made his application under the Data Protection Act (DPA).
It is one of a myriad of codes and regulations which currently cover the release of information - some of which will be replaced by the Freedom of Information Act in 2005.
As well as the DPA, there are rules on NHS openness, environmental information and a general code of practice introduced by John Major's government.
For those people campaigning on local issues across the UK, the situation can be confusing and often frustrating.
Karen Barratt of Mast Sanity - a nationwide group made up of local campaigns over the alleged health implications of phone masts - says the problems in accessing information are mundane but infuriating.
Information is scattered around different government departments, ministers come and go, and the issue has moved around four departments in less than three years.
Paul Dainton: Call for 'layman's language'
She says: "Perhaps they think a moving target is more difficult to hit.
"At a local level, planning departments have glossy codes of best practice, PR leaflets full of spin, but they don't really get to grips with the problem.
"Objectors to specific applications tend to be regarded as a nuisance and as a result it is not always easy to get information."
It is a frustration echoed by Alison Craig, who runs a telephone helpline for Pesticide Action Network UK.
A key concern of the campaign is that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is not obliged to reveal the contents of pesticides without the farmers' consent.
She says: "We've been promised that this will be swept aside by the Freedom of Information act, but we are lobbying at the moment.
"People don't realise that they don't have very basic rights on this.
"However toxic the stuff is, even if it is classified as poison, you have no right to know if that is being used in the field next to your house or a right of way. There is no obligation for a farmer to put a sign up. It is astonishing"
Ms Craig says things are changing, but slowly. The advisory committee on pesticides now publishes its minutes on the web, for instance.
Labour says it is committed to open government
But Mr Dainton is not entirely convinced the Freedom of Information Act will make a great deal of difference.
He believes the act may "tighten up" some of the ways in which information is held back at the moment but says more work needs to be done on making official documents more accessible.
"The system is so stacked against the ordinary campaigner. Unless you can get the information in layman's terms, you are lost," he says.
One key area in which there are high hopes for more access to information is the environment.
A new, improved set of EU regulations must be introduced in the UK by April 2004.
And Phil Michaels of Friends of the Earth is hopeful that they will make a big difference.
He says: "They will be a very powerful weapon in the armoury of those who want to get access to environmental information.
"They are not perfect, but they are much better."
He says the new regulations include a presumption that disclosing information outweighs commercial confidentiality and would replace the time-consuming and costly judicial reviews, with a free appeal to an information commissioner.
But there is concern in the environmental lobby that the regulations are being delayed by the government.
A spokesman for the environment department denied that, saying the regulations would come into force once a programme of training for public bodies affected - and it includes everything from train firms to water companies - is completed.
"We want all the officers who have to deal with the regulations to be fully up to speed, we don't want it to be a rushed job," he said.
Mr Michaels says the current situation can be frustrating.
For instance, he says the group has hit stumbling block while seeking information about the potential environmental threat of certain pesticides.
Even when the pesticides safety directorate agreed to release the information - after first saying they couldn't due to commercial confidentiality - the company concern went to court to prevent disclosure, he says.
Yet Mr Michaels says citizens in countries with more liberal freedom of information laws, such as Sweden, would be able to apply for the same information - and are more than likely get access to it.
"Time and time again where public authorities have a duty to disclose information, they come up with excuses to avoid doing so," he said.