National Park calls for responsible dog walking to ‘help farmers and wildlife’

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Take the lead and keep those paws on the path! That’s the call to action to dog walkers from the South Downs National Park Authority as ground-nesting bird and lambing season starts this March.

With dog ownership at an all-time high post-pandemic, the National Park is re-energising its “Take The Lead” campaign, which encourages responsible dog walking with simple actions, such as keeping canines on leads around livestock and bagging and binning dog poo.

Since the National Park Authority came into being in 2011, the number of dogs in the UK has significantly increased – from around 8m in 2011 to around 13m today – meaning it’s more important than ever to follow some simple guidelines when walking your dog in the countryside.

“Our focus at the National Park is on education and engagement when it comes to dog walking”

The four messages for Take The Lead are:

  • Keep dogs on a lead near livestock
  • Bag and bin your poo, any public bin will do
  • Stick to the path. Protect ground-nesting birds by sticking to the paths, especially between 1 March and 15 September during the breeding season.
  • Do not enter military training areas when the red flags are flying

To mark the campaign, the National Park is inviting dogwalkers to enjoy the stunning views and snap a picture of their pooch on the lead and sticking to the path in the South Downs. The competition starts on 15 March and runs through the Easter Holidays and Discover National Parks Fortnight, finishing on 14 April. The prize for the best image will be an amazing dog hamper full of tasty treats for your four-legged friend and a “poop scoop” Dicky Bag – an award-winning neoprene bag that’s lightweight, airtight, washable and leak proof to store your dog poo bags until you find a suitable bin.

To enter simply post a picture with #PawsOnThePath and #TaketheLead on Instagram or Facebook. Dr Marc Abraham OBE, or ‘Marc the Vet’ as he’s usually known, a multi-award-winning veterinary surgeon, author, broadcaster, and animal welfare campaigner, will be judging the entries.

Unfortunately there have been several reported incidents of sheep worrying in the South Downs over the past couple of years and statistics from the National Sheep Association show that 70% of UK sheep farmers have experienced a sheep worrying attack in the past 12 months.

It’s not only young lambs that are are risk from being chased by dogs, pregnant ewes can abort their unborn lambs if scared by dogs. For any farmer it’s devastating emotionally and financially to discover any of their flock has been injured, or worse, killed, in a dog attack.

Sticking to the paths is particularly important at this time of year as many birds, such as nightjar and curlew, lay their eggs directly on the ground and can easily be disturbed by a curious canine. Mothers will often abandon a nest and her eggs if disturbed.

“Having dogs off leads can potentially have a devastating impact on farmers, as well as fragile wildlife-rich habitats”

Andy Gattiker, who leads on access for the National Park Authority, said, “Our focus at the National Park is on education and engagement when it comes to dog walking.

“Responsible dog walking is a great way for people to get out, get fit and experience the National Park. However, we also understand that having dogs off leads can potentially have a devastating impact on farmers, as well as fragile wildlife-rich habitats.

“The aim of our ‘Take The Lead’ campaign is to help everyone, including dog walkers, to have an enjoyable and safe experience in the National Park.”

One of the “myths” that often arises at the National Park’s engagement events is that dog poo enriches the soil and helps plants and animals.

Andy said, “Many of the habitats in the National Park, such as chalk grassland and heathland, have actually developed over thousands of years because of soil that is low in nutrients. This gives the amazing array of specialist species that we see today. Introducing dog poo can change this soil profile and interrupt these fragile ecosystems. It’s also very unsightly when you’re trying to enjoy this beautiful landscape and carries the risk of serious bacterial infection to humans.”

Sussex-based vet, animal welfare campaigner, and South Downs enthusiast Dr Marc Abraham OBE said, “Once again it’s a huge honour to judge the South Downs National Park’s #TakeTheLead and #PawsOnThePath photo competition. Dog ownership is at an all-time high post-Covid, so it’s never been more important to make sure our four-legged friends are kept under control at all times, which means sticking to the paths during ground-nesting bird and lambing season, as well as picking up their poop and disposing of it safely and responsibly, plus highlighting a new online ‘toolkit’ for communities looking to set up their own dog ambassador schemes.”

If you’re looking to raise awareness in your local area about responsible dog ownership you may want to think about setting up a dog ambassador scheme. Having regular dog walkers in your area talking to other dog walkers can be a great way of helping educate people about how they can ensure they have a fun and safe visit to the countryside with their pooch. The National Park has created an online toolkit, full of useful information on setting up a dog ambassador scheme, and it can be seen here.

This is a guest post by the South Downs National Park Authority. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk.

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