Car parking and canine facilities
The time between dog owners arriving and dispersing into the forest is one of the most likely times for conflict. Dogs can see their owner’s cars as territory to defend; they will be excited, keen to play and want to relieve themselves. The potential for conflict can be reduced by promoting some car parks that are attractive and well-suited to dog walkers; this also provides informed choice for non-dog owners.
Dog owners will particularly welcome and use areas that provide:
- Direct access to where they want to walk without crossing roads.
- Sufficient shaded parking areas on hot days, without being unduly dark, isolated, or vulnerable for car theft.
- Off-lead areas and separation from traffic, horses, livestock and children’s play zones.
- Safe streams and pools for paddling & swimming.
- A ‘dog wash’ using a tap with a short hose and hard-standing.
- Disposal facilities for poo if required to ‘pick up’, or an adjacent area of rough ground where just ‘flick it off the path’ applies.
- Relevant ‘dog-friendly’ information on access plus special events, lost dogs, animal charities’ events, local vets and suppliers.
Signs and information
Within an integrated management approach, signs, leaflets and other written information have a clear role; provided in isolation, they will have a limited effect and can be unsightly and counterproductive.
Written information will be most effective when it:
- Integrates with other management approaches.
- Understands and engages with the motivations and beliefs outlined above - particularly the dog’s safety and well-being.
- Is welcoming and makes requests in a positive matter.
- Explicitly states the behaviour requested, and precisely when and where this is - and is not - required.
- Explains the reasons for any restrictions or requests, with a contact name and telephone number.
- Provides alternatives and other options for activities or behaviours that are not desirable at a particular place or time.
- Is provided at the appropriate time: pre-arrival, trailhead, on trail.
- Gives dog owners some personal choice in how to comply.
- Is removed once it is not needed - for example, signs erected for harvesting operations or sensitive times for wildlife.
- Has been piloted and its interpretation checked with dog owners.
Whilst fouling should not dominate site managers’ interactions with dog owners, it is a frequent and legitimate concern needing a considered management approach. Whilst contracting eye diseases is rare (around 100 cases in the UK per year), dog poo’s inherent unpleasantness warrants action to support the general public, and the many considerate dog owners who will often support action against irresponsible peers.
Local circumstances will dictate the best approach; key issues are:
- Site managers need to actively agree a local policy, if this is to be clearly communicated to dog owners.
- Consulting with dogs owners at an early stage; this can give you valuable insight into what happens and why.
- ‘Flick it off the path’ may be the best option away from intensively used areas, playgrounds etc., through reducing maintenance costs and landfill of a biodegradable product.
- Where different rules apply (e.g. ‘pick up’ or ‘flick it off the path’), the boundaries and reasons must be clearly explained.
- Waste bins need to be clearly marked if they are for poo - owners will see different rules in other areas.
- If mixed in with general litter, bagged poo need not be classed as special waste.
- Poo bins can be encased in wood to reduce their visual impact.
- Bins need to be placed where most needed, not just where they are easiest to empty. Placement can also be used to attract dog walkers towards certain areas.
- Promoting the benefits of regular worming for owners’ dogs.
- In ‘pick up’ areas, consider making poo bags available in dispensers and visitor centres, etc. - they can be overprinted too.
Disturbance to wildlife and livestock
Research for English Nature shows threats from land management practices far outweigh the impact of public access (with or without dogs), and that “research has rarely tried, or been able, to distinguish the specific effects of dogs on wildlife” and “disturbance does not necessarily mean long-term impacts at a population level”.
Disturbance can however occur from out of control dogs, as can legitimate welfare concerns about dogs chasing livestock; these interactions can be acute at certain times or places. Preventative or precautionary restrictions on dogs (e.g. ‘on-lead’ areas or bans in exceptional cases) will be most effective - and fall within the Kennel Club/Forestry Commission concordat - when they are:
- Balanced, explained and regularly reviewed.
- Tightly-focussed to address a specific, tangible problem.
- Preceded by genuine efforts to influence where dog owners go and what they do through good design and positive management.
- The minimum necessary restriction required in time or extent, based on an impartial assessment of the facts.
- Developed through engagement with dog walkers from the outset, not just during implementation.
- Seen as part of an overall package that both promotes the opportunities and minimises the impacts of dog ownership.
- Adhering to the principles of good signage above.
Access to services and facilities
Dog owners will want to use existing facilities such as shops, toilets and children’s play areas where dogs may be excluded. Conflict can be avoided and positive rapport developed by accommodating their needs. Issues to consider are:
- Providing seating overlooking children’s play areas, so parents with dogs can supervise play without entering the enclosure.
- Signed ‘dog park’ areas with metal rings outside shops, toilets and cafes are helpful. They should be overlooked for security and situated so dogs cannot get to doorways and other places where they could cause obstruction or conflict for other visitors.
- The need for secure, shaded car parking.
- Stocking canine merchandise in shops such as leads, toys, treats and poo bags. Place access information and leaflets nearby.
- Just a bowl or plastic container outside with fresh clean water is an easy way to send a compelling and welcoming message!
Dog stiles and latches
In theory these are helpful, providing the opening is not too small for large or less agile dogs. However, top priority is delivering least restrictive access for all humans by removing stiles and providing gaps or gates; doing so usually removes the need for a dog latch.
Where positive engagement does not resolve severe issues caused by specific dog owners, formal legal action may be considered. Care is needed to ensure this will be effective and minimise bad publicity. Some legislation does not apply to FC land - eg Dog Control Orders under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005.