New Forest dog owners pledge to fight push for on-lead rules
DOG owners should be required to walk their pets on a lead in the New Forest during the bird-nesting season, the verderers have declared.
The Official Verderer Lord Manners said that a change in the rules during the spring and early summer could significantly improve breeding results for ground-nesting birds.
But the 1,200-member New Forest Dog Owners Group (NFDOG) has pledged to fight any new restrictions, saying they would unfairly penalise the majority who take care with their pets.
Lord Manners said it was an anomaly that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW), which requires dogs to be on a short lead at all times on designated open access land during the bird-nesting season, does not apply to the Forest.
Although stating the verderers would support a similar set of bylaws being applied locally, Lord Manners stopped short of endorsing a presentment from Lucy Rowe to the Verderers' Court in January calling on all dogs to be walked on a lead at all times.
Any change in bylaws would apply to the ground-nesting bird season which runs from 1st March to 31st July and could be extended to include rules for walking dogs close to livestock.
Lord Manners said: “Whilst the verderers believe that there are many responsible owners who keep their dogs under proper control, there are an increasing number who do not.”
The efforts of the New Forest Dog Owners Group (NFDOG) in promoting responsible dog walking were to be applauded said Lord Manners, who added that Forestry England and national park rangers were also doing what they could to tackle problems.
Lord Manners continued: “I should also say that when the owner of a dog that has been seen chasing or attacking stock has been identified we have found the police very supportive.”
Heather Gould, the chair of NFDOG, said altering the rules would be unfair to the vast majority of responsible owners and pledged the group would fight to oppose any change.
She said: “To suggest that because of a minority, all dogs should be on a lead, all across the Forest, for months on end is frankly unfair.
"It’s like saying because more wild animals die on local roads at night in winter we’ll ban all drivers for six months during the hours of darkness.”
Ms Gould said she agreed dog owners had a duty to act responsibly when enjoying Forest but added: “Unfortunately it’s a tiny minority who give all dog owners a bad name and it is sad that we are victimised.
“Cyclists, cattle, families playing football, ramblers and runners, the activities of those who run the Forest, even climate change, all play their part in declining numbers of ground-nesting birds and other environmental harm – yet it is dog owners who pick up the blame.”
Ms Gould added that NFDOG had put considerable efforts into promoting responsible walking with publicity and education and were grateful to the verderers for supporting them.
A spokesperson for Forestry England said the national park is governed by the New Forest Acts which set how various activities should be managed and therefore the CROW Act does not apply.
The FE spokesperson continued: “In relation to having dogs off the lead, our policy is one that complies with the laws of the land, which states that a dog must be under control. This does not mean that they must be on a lead, merely under appropriate control.
“There are often alternatives to our bylaws that deliver a stronger result, by working closely with other agencies, including the police and we’re able to deploy our resources to best effect.
“There are a number of tools available to the police and other bodies to deal with these sorts of issues including Community Protection Orders and Criminal Behaviour Orders.
“Dogs play a large part in Forest life. To keep them, wildlife and ponies in the New Forest safe, Forestry England continues to urge all dog owners to act responsibly and ensure their dogs are supervised at all times.
"Dogs worrying livestock is a criminal offence contrary to the Dogs Protection of Livestock Act 1953.”