Dog walkers ‘concerned’ over New Forest proposals
The weekend of 11th and 12th October seemed to be the weekend when dog owners were to be seen putting their thoughts into action on a number of issues, from anti-puppy farming protests to dog walking access restrictions.
It saw the New Forest dog owners meet at Brockenhurst Village hall where a meeting with the National Parks Authority, was held to raise issues about access to the national park and proposed dog restrictions. Already there are restrictions in place, such as keeping dogs on leads where there are ground nesting birds, during the nesting season, which the dog owners support.
The New Forest is enjoyed by many dog owners, not just local dog owners but by visitors to the area every year. The proposed new restrictions have singled out dog owners in a way that no other group of forest users has been. There are proposed restrictions on car park use, with a number of car parks barring dog owners.
As Mary Osbourn told OUR DOGS: ‘Having walked in the forest for over 20 years with dogs we are naturally concerned over the statements and proposals in the Draft Documents.
‘Living a mile or so outside the forest boundaries we need to be able to drive to the car parks to walk our dogs in pleasant surroundings. Plans for road pricing, road and car park closures are therefore disturbing, more so because they are so non-specific. How does one argue against the "concept of dog free car parks" One car park, 10 or all of them?’ added Ms Osbourn.
Threat to health
Press reports have suggested the forest has a real problem with dog excrement and it is not uncommon for those that don't actually walk there to believe these reports and cite this as a reason they do not use the forest. Since the publication of proposed restrictions Karen White, Mary and John Osbourn have looked for dog excrement on their walks.
‘Even when we walk in the more popular car parks we see very little and certainly not on a daily basis. I would add that the quantities of horse and cow droppings must surely contribute more to enriching the soil and also pose as great a threat to human health.
‘When the forest is busy in the summer months one can still walk in the more populated areas and within five minutes of starting a walk see no one until one is back in the car park,’ they added.
This was backed up by Desmond Swayne, MP New Forest West, who said he ran through the forest seven miles every day and never had a problem with dogs or saw any dog excrement. He also said that ornithologist friends had told him that dogs actually helped ground nesting birds as they scared away natural predators.
The claims that dog fouling is a major problem and evidence that livestock in the forest has been involved in incidents of dogs having chased and worried them has not been confirmed by those more closely connected to the forest. When contacted the Head Agister has confirmed stock worrying is not a significant problem. Dog owners who live close to the park have all commented that dogs that have been brought up on the forest can easily be trained not to worry livestock and responsible dog owners naturally put their dogs on leads should horse riders or other users be in the vicinity.
‘One would have more confidence in the drafts if we felt that the authors had actually walked in the forest and seen how deserted it is away from the car parks,’ said Mary, who like other dog owners feel that the proposals are just the tip of an iceberg, which will spread anti-dog restrictions across other National Parks throughout the UK.
‘NFDog has on its website a draft document which dog owners, whether local or seasonal visitors, can download and send to the NPA in support of the changes it is requesting are made to the proposed restrictions. Dog Free Car Parks.
David Dickenson B.Vet.Med., told the BBC Politics Show broadcast last Sunday lunchtime, ‘No other user group has been singled out in this way, and it places unfair restrictions on the largest group of forest users. It ignores the many known benefits of dog walking, accepted by government.’
No group of traditional quiet recreational users should lose current enjoyments, and we should all be treated equally. The reasoning behind dog free car parks with regard to conservation and other aims is not founded on evidence.
A link which readers can access to view more about these proposals is at http://www.naturescene.co.uk/
The previous week had seen a massive demonstration against proposals limiting horse riders, many of whom say the proposed restrictions will cause welfare issues for some horses. Dog owners supported that gathering and horse owners turned up at the meeting of dog owners to put the case that dog owners are being singled out.
Speakers at the meeting were Holly Lee of the Kennel Club’s KC dog scheme, Stephen Trotter – National Park Authority executive, Desmond Swayne MP, Julian Lewis MP, Cllr. Maureen Holding - National Park Authority member, Cllr. Ken Thorber - Head of Hants CC, Cllr. Thorold Masefield - Chairman Brockenhurst PC, David Dickenson B.Vet.Med., MRCVS, Janine Redman B.Vet.Med., MRCVS, Tina Cant and Penny Jackman - Forest Uprising Group.
At one time during the week it looked as though the meeting might have to be called off due to reports reaching the organisers of the meeting that BNP supporters were planning to attend the meeting and hijack it for their own purposes. However, security at the meeting was increased and it went ahead with no problems.
The meeting was told that the NPA does not believe that local people and forest users have understood the draft proposals and suggested they look on their website. A request from New Forest Dog campaigners to have between 2,000 and 3,000 copies of the proposals printed by NPA to be circulated among dog owners were not forthcoming, so not everyone can respond. The NPA say there is a need to balance conservation with people’s right to walk in the forest, saying that increased housing developments around the forest will put more pressure on the forest area as more people will want to walk there.
Comparing the restrictions they wish to put in place and the camping restrictions brought in a few years ago they claimed that, at first, people complained but now agree with them. Although how camping and staying for days at a time, driving on the forest tracks to campsites can compare to the average dog walker walking in the forest for an hour or so was not made clear.
It did appear from the interviews given on the BBC Politics programme that the NPA have already decided what they want to do and will do so regardless of the protesters’ concerns. The time for protesters to lodge their concerns with the NPA has been extended for a further two weeks. It would seem that these dog walking restrictions are something that the National Parks Authority are determined to push through regardless of public opinion.