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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Walk on the wild side

Having read about the wild boar in a recent issue of Dogs Today, are there other species that my dog might be affecting/bothering, without me realising? I know my dog should be on the lead in woodland in the spring, to protect ground-nesting birds, but are there other things I should be aware of?

Joy Shepherd, by email

Scott Passmore, volunteer wildlife conservationist ( advises…

As a dog lover, having rescued many dogs, of different shapes, sizes and ages, over the last 10 years, I believe dogs should be welcomed on any land/reserve/park where they will not be a cause of harm to wildlife or a hazard to other people.

It is also my belief that dog owners are responsible for their dogs’ behaviour and their safety and welfare, not the dog.
By taking a few small, but vital, points into consideration we can all enjoy the great outdoors at no expense to any flora, fauna or our pets.

Firstly, the Natural England Countryside Code says:

“When you take your dog into the outdoors, always ensure it does not disturb wildlife, farm animals, horses or other people by keeping it under effective control. This means that you:

·       keep your dog on a lead, or
·       keep it in sight at all times, be aware of what it’s doing and be confident it will return to you promptly on command
·       ensure it does not stray off the path or area where you have a right of access”

In some cases, intentionally or recklessly disturbing wildlife can be a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

At different times of the year dogs can become a challenge for many species of wildlife which are already in serious decline:

·       During the bird breeding season (April – July approx) dogs may cause birds, especially ground nesting, to leave and reject the nest, thus resulting in eggs not hatching and/or any born chicks dying
·       Some dogs are also known to attack birds they find in the undergrowth
·       Small mammals are at threat from dogs chasing, or thinking they are a toy
·       Any dogs disturbing wildlife may inadvertently chase the wildlife from the safety of their habitats; sadly this may mean into roads/paths of cars and/or separate mother from their young
·       Stressed wildlife can, and often does, die of shock. A worried animal may also retaliate and attack dogs, causing injury and an expensive vet bill.
·       Dog running uncontrollably in flora can cause extensive damage, maybe even destroy plants which provide habitat or food for animals

As well as looking out for wildlife we must not forget the natural hazards to our dogs:

·       Mammals like wild boar/badgers/fox will protect their young or defend themselves if threatened. The general rule if chased by a mammal is to let your dog go, as they can run away quicker without you on the end of a lead.
·       There are many toxic plants which if eaten by a dog can be fatal eg. ragwort, nightshades
·       Bites from poisonous species, like Adders, can be fatal to dogs, and if not treated fast can even make a human very ill., although human fatalities are very rare. Adders come out of hibernation when the temps rise, they have been unusually seen on really hot days in Dec and Jan, but usually they get active Mar/Apr and go back down in Oct/Nov time.
·       Other hazards for dogs in the countryside include being shot by farmers for worrying livestock grazing
·       Getting tangled on barbed wire and electric fences.

All the above can be reduced to a minimum and in return maximum enjoyment of our countryside gained for everyone just by keeping dogs should under close control at all times. Some tips for letting wildlife know you are coming include:

·       Talking loudly to your dog on walks, yes it really works J
·       Falconry style bells on collars, lightweight but effective

A few seconds advance warning for wildlife could be the difference between life and death for an animal, and a pleasant walk with no huge vet bill from injuries sustained to a dog unnecessarily.

Last but not least if your dog fouls anywhere in public please pick it up. It is a hazard to other walkers, unpleasant and can carry disease. Remember that school parties or people in wheelchairs, for example, may also use the area and disease can easily spread from wheelchair wheels to hands, or kids shoes to hands and onto food/into mouths.
Some Forestry Commission Districts do recommend on land they manage that you flick it in to the undergrowth, but ask that you never leave it in the open, or hang a dog bag on a tree for birds to become tangled in.

Leave the area how you wish to find it; let’s ensure wildlife is there for all in generations to come.

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