As the Wildlife Trust Officer for Pembrokeshire, I always look forward to the arrival of spring when across the county, signs of life slowly start emerging once again.
It is a time when wildlife begins planning for the breeding season and start to make use of the habitats found in their surroundings. It is also a time where the human element of the wider countryside start to venture further afield and come into closer contact with nature.
The Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales manages 14 reserves within the county and along with other conservation organisations such as the National Trust, National Park and RSPB, actively encourages a greater connection between members of the public and nature.
Nearly all of our sites are open for access all year round and have a good network of paths across them. This allows a variety of user groups to gain better access to our nature reserves and immerse themselves in the natural environment that surrounds them.
One of the main visitors to our sites are dog walkers. Whilst the majority of this group of people follow guidelines set when on a reserve, there are still a fair few that do not. It is becoming increasingly frustrating as a reserve manager to come into frequent contact with those who show little responsibility for their dog or respect for wildlife when visiting a nature reserve.
Simple tasks like keeping a dog on a lead or picking up, bagging and taking home dog waste are not adhered to. Trees decorated in dog waste bags are sadly becoming an increasingly common sight.
We require dogs to be kept on leads at all times. This helps to protect ground nesting birds, vulnerable wild mammal populations and prevent any disturbance to grazing animals. After all, it isn’t called a nature reserve for a reason.
There are other important reasons for keeping dogs on leads that owners need to be aware of. Some of which are as follows:
- One is able to see when a dog defecates and therefore bag it and bin it. If not removed, areas of high defecation can cause damage to fragile and complex habitats and transmit disease and pathogens.
- Dog mess can cause possible blindness to reserve workers if any were to enter their eyes when strimming paths. It is also a health hazard to other members of the public, especially children.
- Not everyone is fond of dogs and some have severe phobias. Other reserve users can feel extremely uncomfortable when a dog runs up to them even though the dog may be friendly and harmless.
- Small children are especially in danger from loose dogs, ranging from simply being knocked down by an enthusiastic dog to being bitten or seriously harmed.
- Dogs off lead decrease the number and diversity of wildlife near footpaths. Many people come to reserves to see the wildlife that live in these protected areas, so their enjoyment is directly diminished.
Dogs can also help spread invasive species. This is particularly the case for those invasives found in areas of open water such as New Zealand pygmyweed.
- Some conservation organisations do not allow dogs on their reserves at all. We require the understanding and respect from all our dog walkers to keep their dogs on leads and follow the country-side code so that we may continue to welcome dogs to our nature reserves.
Thank you for your cooperation.
Nathan Walton, Wildlife Trust Officer for Pembrokeshire