The Hidden Hazards of Dogs on Nature Reserves!

Overton Mere Nature Reserve

Overton Mere Nature Reserve

Dexter Cattle  at work on WTSWW's Overton Mere Nature Reserve.

Dexter Cattle at work on WTSWW's Overton Mere Nature Reserve.

This is the story of Cwcw, a young Pedigree Dexter heifer and a lesser known problem caused by dogs in the countryside (but this is not likely to be an isolated incident).

Most users of the countryside are aware of the troubles of dogs and livestock worrying, it is also known that dogs can also cause disturbance to our wildlife such as overwintering seabirds feeding on beaches, waterfowl on our ponds and lakes, ground nesting birds such as lapwing and curlew and dogs can even disturb scrub nesting species if they run through the woods.

Most dog owners also acknowledge the issue of the health hazard caused by dog faeces, to humans; it is now entirely normal to be expected to “bag it & bin it” when a dog fouls the pavement in a town or village. On nature reserves and in our farmland and countryside dog owners perhaps are not quite so diligent, some may bag it and take it with them, some may “pick up a stick and give it a flick” (as is encouraged by some organisations), other dog owners may choose to turn a blind eye to what their dog has left behind. The only option on our nature reserves or in the wider countryside should be to bag it and take it with you.

Why is this important? And what’s it got to do with a cow called Cwcw?

It is because of a virus transmitted to cattle through dog faeces called Neosporosis. Cwcw contracted this virus whilst grazing at Overton Mere. Neosporosis causes abortion and infertility in cattle. Neospora can remain in the pasture for up to 6 months. It can also cause serious health problems in young dogs.

There are other diseases spread this way too. Livestock are unfortunately attracted to the cereal content of dog faeces. In another incident we discovered a plastic dog poo bag within the dung of a Welsh Mountain pony grazing on this reserve, a case of bag it and leave it.

Cwcw belongs to one of The Wildlife Trusts of South and West Wales (WTSWW’s) conservation graziers Emma Douglas. Emma said:

“My family have always kept cattle but I wanted to start my own herd, so I purchased five pedigree Dexters in 2017. They are the smallest breed of cattle in the UK, known for their hardiness, character, good maternal traits and excellent beef. They lend themselves to conservation grazing as they are light, agile and thrive on rough vegetation. My first dexter calf was born in Spring 2018 on a beautiful morning to the call of the cuckoo, I named her Cwcw. She's a beautiful heifer, destined to remain in the herd as a breeding female.

Later that year Cwcw and two others grazed at Overton Mere, to help restore the stunning and rare habitats here. It was a pleasure to see cattle roaming here and they thrived. Unfortunately this was where Cwcw contracted Neosporosis from dog mess. She has been pregnant twice now, she was in calf last year but must have aborted then but we gave her another chance. She aborted last week and tested positive for Neosporosis. This is incurable and she will not be able to breed as she will never be able to support a pregnancy to full term. Please pick up after your dog and dispose of the bag in a bin, not just here but anywhere where livestock graze.”

This is clearly upsetting for the owner of the livestock but why is this so important to WTSWW?

We do not own our own livestock; to effectively and sustainably manage our beautiful grassland and heathland reserves we rely on farmers being willing to turn livestock out on to our reserves, in appropriate numbers and at appropriate times. We rely on a lot of goodwill from our graziers to ensure our reserves reach their full potential for biodiversity. When we have issues such as in this story or cases of livestock worrying we risk losing the cooperation of our graziers. Not all farmers would consider putting grazing animals on sites where we actively invite the public to visit and interact with the habitats and wildlife.

If we lose our graziers we will lose our species rich grasslands and diverse heath habitats, the management of which are so reliant on grazing animals.

We have not banned dogs from any of our nature reserves (apart from the islands) even though there are strong suggestions that wildlife flourishes where there is less disturbance.

So this is a plea to ask all dog owners using our reserves, or any part of the countryside to please keep dogs on a lead or under close control and please bag and remove any faeces.

Paul Thronton, Senior Wildlife Trust Officer