Questions raised by participants in the forum.
1. Why did the FC choose a discussion format rather than a more standard survey format?
When the Dogs on Leads proposal was made public in October 2013, we received many comments from visitors. The feedback was significantly contrasted and made it difficult to reach a consensus that accurately reflected the view of the majority of the community.
In light of this, we felt the best approach would be to invite the community to discuss and comment upon the Dogs on Leads proposal collectively and encourage alternative solutions to be put forward that would ensure Jeskyns remains a popular and safe place to visit for everyone.
The discussion format enables anyone with an interest in Jeskyns to have a thoughtful discussion about how dogs could be better managed and allows everyone to examine other points of view about this emotive subject. It encourages a problem solving approach through the sharing of ideas and experiences and allows people to comment on them to build a consensus.
We hope this approach will identify a number of workable solutions to ensure Jeskyns remains a popular and safe place for everyone.
2. Why is the FC not responding to questions on this forum or getting involved in any of the discussions?
We have been reading the discussion with great interest but have purposefully taken a "hands off" approach in the first few weeks to allow everyone to simply have their say, see others points of view and make suggestions. This has enabled us to glean a real picture of the wide range of opinions and experiences that people are sharing.
Many valuable ideas and comments have been posted and a summary of the discussion so far has been posted which identifies the most popular solutions suggested by forum users. See "Summary so Far – 11th Feb 2014” by Denise_Jeskysn Ranger. We are now asking everyone to focus their discussions upon these identified solutions by using the "comment" button rather than the "submit an idea" button. This should help focus the discussions and encourage a more productive debate about the range of options. We want you to continue contributing as we move towards agreeing solutions - so do keep involved.
3. What are the actual number of complaints and incidents? What is the evidence that measures need to be taken?
Over the last year, the Forestry Commission has received 21 formal complaints and 17 reports of incidents and accidents relating to uncontrolled dogs. Kent Police confirm that over the same period they had to respond to 5 incidents of dog attacks upon persons and 4 incidents of dog on dog attacks. In 2012 the police confirmed that they responded to 17 different dog related incidents at Jeskyns.
Whilst these statistics are useful, it’s important to recognise that the numbers of reported incidents, generally only represent a snap shop of what is actually occurring onsite. The current discussion forum has already highlighted a number of incidents that were never reported to us or Kent Police. Instead of reporting incidents visitors often just stop coming and we have seen significant evidence of this within the forum discussions.
When it comes to the nature of the incidents only a few relate to aggressive dogs – though these incidents have resulted in injuries to other dogs, horses, led to the death of livestock and even bites to people. The more common issues appear to be caused by free running dogs jumping up at and/or knocking over other visitors. Whilst this action is not intentional or malicious it is the result of dogs not being kept under proper control in a public space and some incidents have resulted in injuries to people.
Jeskyns was created to welcome a broad range of visitors and as a community resource that everyone could enjoy and partake in a range of different activities. Over the last couple of years we have seen the number of visitors coming for activities other than dog walking reduce dramatically. We recognise that many people are now avoiding Jeskyns because of bad experiences and the growing perception of Jeskyns as a "dog park".
With the café recently opening, we expect a wider range of visitors to start coming as the new facilities will make the site more accessible to families with young children, the elderly and those with disabilities. Poor dog behaviour presents a significant hazard to these types of visitors in particular.
In summary, taking into consideration the current number of reported incidents, the severity of some of these incidents, our awareness of the likely quantity of unreported incidents taking place and the potential for increased incidents (with the opening of the new café) we deem it necessary to implement measures to minimise risk and ensure Jeskyns can continue to provide for everyone.
4. Has the FC already made up its mind and a dog’s zone will be created what ever the results of this discussion?
Not at all, we really want to work together to come up with an appropriate range of measures that address the current issues. We have opened this discussion forum to encourage everyone to put forward their ideas and solutions.
However, doing nothing is not an option - measures must be taken to reduce the current issues. It is important to be clear therefore that the original dog zone proposal could still be implemented if is shown to be the most practicable and most popular option amongst forum users.
5. How will any changes be enforced on site? Can a dog control order be made on Jeskyns?
The Forestry Commission manages Jeskyns within set budgets and no significant additional resource will be available to support any changes. This is one of the reasons for opening a discussion forum - to encourage creative problem solving! Our aim is to come up with a workable solution that the majority find reasonable and will therfore be prepared to adopt as responsible visitors.
We do recognise that some additional staff presence to increase visible ranger presence on site is desirable and we are currently investigating how this could be resourced and implemented.
A Dog Control Order has been introduced into the Borough of Gravesham under the Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. However, this legislation specifically excludes Forestry Commission land and therefore cannot be applied at Jeskyns. Instead the Forestry Commission Byelaws apply to Jeskyns and a copy can be found here.