Suffolk Wildlife Trust in ‘canine asbo’ move to protect wildlife on Broads nature reserve
New legal powers have been adopted to protect wildlife, livestock and people from out-of-control dogs running wild across one of East Anglia's most important nature reserves.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust has been granted a Public Space Protection Order to combat increasing problems of disturbance and mess caused by unruly canine visitors to its Carlton and Oulton Marshes reserve near Lowestoft. In the wake of numerous recorded incidents in recent years, the 'canine asbo' order comes into effect tomorrow and is thought to be the first one covering a Suffolk nature reserve.
Matt Gooch, the trust's Broads reserves warden, said the order required dogs to be kept on a lead and walked only on public footpaths on the site. It also 'highlights' the requirement for dog walkers to 'pick up' their animal's mess. 'Immediate fines of £80 can be imposed for transgressions, rising to a maximum of £1,000 if a case is taken to court by Waveney District Council, who are the authorising body and with whom we have worked closely on the order,' said Mr Gooch.
'We have done a lot of recording of dog incidents over the last two years and we've established that numbers of breeding territories of ground-nesting birds such as skylark and meadow pipit show a gap between the levels they should be as a result of the habitat we've created and those that actually exist. Breeding birds are being pushed away from areas around footpaths– numbers are being skewed by disturbance.
'It's not all about dog-walkers but about 45% of our 30,000 or 40,000 visitors each year bring a dog so there's a cumulative effect with dog-walking.
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'We would rather have not had to take the legal route but, for some people, without that legal route you cannot even start a conversation about their dog and persuade them to keep it on a lead. It's a last resort measure – we do not envisage having to fine many people as most people will understand that this is a nature reserve and will see the request to keep dogs on leads as a fair request.
'It's been necessary because we have had incidents of dogs running into school groups, charging at the cattle grazing on the reserve and running into and frightening people as well as the mess and wildlife disturbance issues. We have had a 12-week consultation period and the order is for three years, to be reviewed each year. We haven't had any negative comments and we think people see the justification for it and we will be as diplomatic as possible about it.'
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The trust had long worked with the Lowestoft-based Happy Paws Dog Training Society to spread the word about responsible dog-walking on the site. Now those efforts had been supported by the Tesco Bags of Help initiative, said Mr Gooch.
Tesco had teamed up with the national charity Groundwork in the funding initiative, in which grants of up to £5,000, £2,000 and £1,000 – all raised from a 5p bag levy – were awarded to thousands of community projects every year. The trust's and the Happy Paws' Dog Ambassadors for the Broads scheme had been awarded £2,400.
Volunteers would receive support from Happy Paws and dog behaviour expert Phil Brown to become dog ambassadors who would explain and demonstrate 'good practice' dog control on the reserve, he said.
Tesco shoppers voted in local stores throughout January to choose which local project should get the top award, using tokens given out at store check-outs. Since its launch in 2015, Bags of Help has awarded grants totalling more than £27million to more than 3,500 community projects.
Drop-in events are to be held to help dog owners understand the canine issues on the Carlton and Oultson Marshes reserve. They will take place at the reserve's education centre, off Burnt Hill Lane, Carlton Colville, on April 26 (5pm-7pm), April 29 and April 30 (both 1pm-2pm) and May 2 (5pm-7pm).