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Dogs ‘harmful to wildlife’
- bird population ‘decimated’ by dogs

DOGS AND dog walking should be banned in sensitive conservation areas, say scientists who have studied the impact of the pets on the environment.

The presence of dogs allegedly leads to a 35% drop in wild bird diversity and a 41% drop in abundance, according to the Australian study, but critics argue that the results are not relevant to the UK.

Peter Banks and Jessica Bryant, of the University of New South Wales, carried out the study in a woodland 35 miles north of Sydney. They compared the effect of a person walking a dog on a lead, a walker on their own, two walkers together or no walkers at all on the abundance and diversity of birds they observed in the area. They repeated each condition 15 times and used a variety of dog breeds.

The authors wrote in the journal Biology Letters: ‘Conservation managers often ban dog walking from natural areas fearing that wildlife will see dogs as potential predators and abandon their natural habitats, resulting in outcry at the restricted access to public land ... These results argue against access by dog walkers to sensitive conservation areas.’

Dr Peter Banks further commented: ‘I can't see why it wouldn't be relevant to the UK and other places.’

The researchers found that bird numbers dropped by 41% and diversity dropped by 35% after a dog had been walked through the forest compared with the control condition in which there were no walkers. This result did not depend on whether the area they studied was popular with dog walkers or not. Ground-dwelling birds were particularly affected, with half of the species in control sites absent from sites where dogs were walked. This is presumably because these species feel most threatened by canines.

However, wildlife conservation managers often ban dogs from natural areas, fearing they will deter local wildlife, resulting in outcry at the restricted access to public land.

Earlier work showed that that human walkers (without dogs) make birds more vigilant or likely to fly off, and that off-lead dog walking can disturb some species of breeding shorebird.

But dog-walking lobbyists argued there was a lack of hard evidence that dog walking was harmful. Arguments are passionate on both sides and have remained unresolved without proof of the ecological impacts of dog-walking.