FOREST dog owners are hot under the collar again following
the latest measures taken by the Forestry Commission to restrict
dog walking in the Forest. Despite a huge public meeting,
attended by thousands of protesting dog owners at Lyndhurst
last year, followed by close negotiations between New Forest
Dog Owners Group and the Forestry Commission since then,
the groups organisers say they feel as though all their
efforts have been in vain.
And they havent ruled out another protest meeting.
In recent weeks, the Forestry Commission has been erecting numerous signs at Forest car parks and enclosures warning dog owners that their pets must be under close control, or on a short lead, to protect ground nesting birds.
But NFDOG, which has its own ornithologists, says it was agreed, both at the public meeting and at subsequent private meetings with the FC, that ground nesting birds, with the exception of the waders, were no more at risk from dog walkers than from any other group that uses the Forest.
Yet these other groups have not been restricted.
NFDOG is also angry that the signs have gone up at places like Longslade Bottom - a lawned area of Forest with not a ground nesting bird in sight. Moreover, they say nothing has been done to keep the public, other than dog owners, away from the genuinely sensitive nesting sites of vulnerable wading birds.
The group has now sent an irate letter to the FCs Recreation Manager, Bruce Rothnie.
We have had numerous discussions with the Forestry Commission since out successful public meeting last year, says the letter.
In these meetings we were led to believe that they were sympathetic to the concerns of responsible dog owners.
They told us that their priority was conservation but that they had no anti-dog policy.
They have confirmed publicly that they have no evidence that dogs disturb ground-nesting birds and we were assured that they would only put in place restrictions that were effective in protecting the most sensitive species.
Now, only a few weeks after our last meeting, we see that signs have gone up all over the Forest with a blanket requirement that dogs must be under close control or on a short lead until August.
As responsible dog owners we know that dogs must be kept under control, but the current signs are draconian and, worst of all, will not protect the species of birds that are at risk.
The group says that waders nest in specific, usually boggy, areas and they have always supported measures aimed at protecting them during the nesting season.
To be effective, these measures would have to exclude all users, with or without dogs, and would have to relate to specific areas.
But they say there is no guidance for other forest users, who are equally capable of disturbing waders.
You may fly a kite, walk, cycle or ride right through the middle of nesting sites with the Forestry Commissions blessing, it seems, as long as you dont have a dog, says the letter.
The signs do not distinguish between the lawns, which are obviously not sensitive sites, and boggier areas or remote heathland favoured by waders.
Our own ornithologists have confirmed there are no birds nesting on the lawns.
It is unnecessary to restrict dog walkers, or anyone else, from using the lawns, so the signs as they stand are unreasonable, ineffective and are likely, with some justification, to be ignored.
NFDOG is encouraging all dog walkers who care about this discrimination to write to Donald Thompson, the Deputy Surveyor, The Forestry Commission, Queens House, Lyndhurst SO43 7NH.