The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust is calling for dog owners to exercise responsibility and obey the law when walking with dogs following the death of sheep at one of their sites.
The call comes after an attack on one of their conservation grazing sheep by an out of control dog on Friday at Annesley Woodhouse Quarry SSSI. The incident adds to a list of numerous attacks in similar circumstances over the past couple of years. In this case the sheep is expected to recover, though the Trust’s shepherd had to take immediate action to treat the wounds and prevent any infection. In the past, sheep haven’t made it. All of the dog owners reported no previous aggressive behaviour.
Many of the NWT’s Nature Reserves are crossed by Public Rights of Way, and it is enshrined in law that the public have a right to pass and re-pass with a dog under control. Charles Langtree, Head of Estates says problems often occur away from the paths:
“Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust needs to balance the impact dogs have on wildlife with the important place dogs have in people’s lives. We try where possible to accommodate visitors who wish to bring their dogs but our first priority has to be to the wildlife on site, and this extends to the welfare of our conservation livestock. A dog is an independent being, and can at any time make a decision to do as requested or not, and as such may only truly be under control if it is on a lead. Any access off a Public Right of Way is at the discretion of the land owner, or tenant if they hold those rights, and on our Nature Reserves this is usually the Trust.”
Most footpaths are accepted within the law as being less than 3m wide, so any movement off this route is at the permission of the land owner or manager where applicable. The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust views any dog off the lead outside the width of the path as not being under control and require it to be put on a lead. Best practice is to keep the dog on a lead. “This helps make sure that dogs are not able to leave faeces without the owner noticing or to disrupt birds and other wildlife which could be an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, particularly at this time of year when ground nesting birds are present on many wildlife sites. Often the dogs that cause harm haven’t previously done so and the owners are often shocked and upset.”
It is illegal to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control and owners can be fined up to £20,000 or sent to prison for up to 6 months (or both. If found guilty, owners may not be allowed to own a dog in the future and the dog may even be destroyed. UK law still allows for out of control dogs to be shot for worrying livestock.
Despite the dangers posed by failure to control dogs, Charles remains positive that dogs can continue to come on site:
“Dog ownership plays a significant part in engaging people with the natural world and exercising outdoors. We want people to be able to do this where possible on our reserves, but this can’t happen at the expense of wildlife or at the risk of our sheep. Responsible dog ownership and control is not only a legal requirement but helps protect all animals involved, including the dogs who could be easily injured by our cattle, or other dogs on site. There are clear signs in place on our reserves, please follow them.”