Friday, 21 November 2014

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . DOGS

An important habitat where birds such as wigeon, redshank, jack snipe, twite and Lapland buntings are vulnerable to disturbance by dogs

DOG  is man's best friend!

Mostly, of course, they provide joyous and affectionate  companionship to their owners, both children and adults,  including the elderly who might otherwise be extremely lonely,

They are also precious for 101 other resaons - in industry, sport, medical  therapy (especially for the blind and for those with neurological conditions) and much else.

True, there are occasional cases when individual animals cause injury or even death to humans and livestock, but such incidents, invariably headline-making, are relatively few and far between.

But are there  now too many dogs in North East Lincolnshire?

Judging by the increasing numbers seen in public parks and on Cleethorpes beach, the population has exploded over the past 15-20 years.

Especially for birders, this has caused a problem. Dogs are definitely  not birders' best friend. They generate disturbance.

Most birders will have many a tale to tell of  ground-dwelling feeders and breeders being flushed by  canines.

If a local authority creates a new wildlife reserve or "country park", sure as sure, it will soon be annexed as a favoured habitat for dog walkers.

Many of the birds will fly to pastures new. It would have been better if the "reserve" had never been created in the first place.

Among examples in Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire, is the resort's so-called  "country park" where one edge of the lake  which used to attract ringed plovers and common sandpipers has now been given a unique special status as . . .  "a dog swimming area".

What can be done about it? Probably nothing - except perhaps reintroduction of the old dog licence fee.

But this won't happen. It would be expensive to administer and politically unpopular.

And the  plain fact is that dogs give immense enjoyment  to  their owners - and there are far more of them than there are birders.

The extent of their devotion was underlined by the comment of one greyhound owner. "A house without dogs is worse than a house without windows."

Most dog owners are  good, kindly  people who  like to share the pleasure of their pets with others. But there a  few who are the opposite. They are  intolerant of anyone or anything that challenges the "rights" of them and their animals.

When an elderly  parish councillor in Ingoldmells, near Skegness, complained about the extent of fouling on the streets of his village, his comments were reported in a local newspaper, and faeces were soon being  shovelled through the letter box on to his doormat. Understandably, he and his wife were mortified.

During this month, the debate  about dogs has been reopened with a vengeance on the bulletin board of the Lincolnshire Bird Club  - specifically in relation to the RSPB's Tetney Marsh reserve, south of Cleethorpes, where dogs frequently run loose.

One contributo wrote: " The dog walkers are a permanent  pain who seem to think it is their right  totally to ignore the signs for dogs to be kept under close control and not clear up after them.

"The voluntary  wardens do a grand job within the budget constraints put upon them, and they deserve our wholehearted support.

"I personally  have been verbally abused many times after making a simple request about whether  they had  noticed the signs about dogs.

"Some throw balls into the marsh for their animals to retrieve.

"For them, it is great fun - the dogs really enjoy it.

"One woman even told me the ducks were  enjoying themselves, too,  dodging her  spaniel as if it was also good fun for the wildfowl.

"What an idiot!"

Here are  the comments of an RSPB spokesman who oversees the fortunes of the Tetney reserve: "In regards the usage of the site with people with dogs, we have tried many approaches to try and solve this.

"We have approached the Press before and had bits published, but we have also been on the receiving end of Press articles instigated by dog walkers that have claimed that the RSPB is stopping public access to an area that is there right to access and is a public footpath.

"Although the land is private and there is actually no public access,  the Press, as usual, covered it in an unsympathetic way, giving the impression that people could go where they wanted with dogs rather than actually that  they were trespassing.

"They even had a quote from a member of another conservation body who owned a dog who thought that we were out of line.

"Unfortunately the dog lobby is very strong and vocal, and, at times, the odd individual  can be very aggressive."

The spokesman continues: "Ideally we should like to solve the dog walking problem sensibly, and this is being tackled via the relevant authorities who have undertaken a disturbance study and are formulating recommendation of how to manage problems of disturbance.

"This may include introducing car park charges to some car parks or creating specific areas for dog walking with free car parking. There will be other approaches like the recently created Humber Hounds that are promoting responsible dog ownership along the estuary,  and I feel that this is very positive.

"Ideally we should be trying to educate the majority of dog owners and work with them, trying not to alienate them against the conservation cause, but this will take time."

Wise words, indeed,   but more ideas are needed.

If anyone can suggest a solution, please write to your local MP.

Invariably ignored by dog walkers - one of the signs at the approach to the reserve

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