Kennel Club challenges Corporation of London over Burnham Beeches Dog Control

I recently wrote about Dogs and nature. Dogs undoubtedly have a fantastic social value, but also a large environmental footprint, not least in areas valuable for their nature. This causes some interesting tensions to arise, as dog-lovers also tend to be interested in nature, and to care about animals, wild and domestic.

As I wrote before, Burnham Beeches is a fabulously valuable site for nature on the outskirts of London. It is also a mecca for dog-walkers, including professional dog walkers. The Corporation of London, who own and manage Burnham Beeches, have become increasingly concerned about the impact of dog-walking on the nature of the Beeches, specifically the 50 Tonnes of dog poo and 30 tonnes of dog wee deposited every year from dogs. Also, CoL has re-introduced livestock to the Beeches for the benefit of the species and habitat there, and they have experienced problems of stock being disturbed by out of control dogs. The Corporation have spent years trying to use voluntary approaches to limit the impact of dog walkers at Burnham Beeches. They have used signage, introduced dog bins, increased the number of wardens and carried out surveys. All those voluntary avenues have been used and the problem has not gone away. With a recent change in the law which enabled Dog Control Orders to be applied to private land such as Burnham Beeches, The Corporation has decided to take the regulatory path.

Last year the CoL surveyed the opinions of visitors to Burnham Beeches, including how they felt about dog-walking. They put forward a number of proposals to the public, concerning the introduction of restrictions on what dog-walkers could do, and asked for the public’s views. The public were supportive of introducing some restrictions, and the comments received were taken on board by CoL who amended the proposals.

These amended proposals are now out for public consultation – here is the link.
The proposals would enable Burnham Beeches staff to require dog-walkers to put their dogs on a lead in part of the site, and to ensure that dog-walkers have their dogs under close control (off the lead) on the remaining 220 acres (this is 3 times the area that a typical dog walker at BB requires and more than sufficient to ensure the mental health and well being of even the largest dog). It would also enable staff to require dog-walkers to pick up their dog’s poo (only about 30% do at the moment); and require people to limit the number of dogs walked per individual to four, so as to try and control the increasing number of professional dog walkers who walk more dogs than they can control.

Please do respond to the consultation and provide comments back to Burnham Beeches – this applies whether you use the site or not. I think what CoL are proposing at Burnham is sensible and measured and what happens at Burnham will have a bearing on whether other sites in a similar situation can effectively use Dog Control Orders to limit the impact of dog-walking. Please give them your support, if you agree with what they are proposing.
Not surprisingly the proposals have met with stiff opposition, from the Kennel Club. The KC is an interesting beast – it is literally a Mayfair gentleman’s club – it was founded in 1873 by 13 gentlemen who were concerned that the new fashion for dog shows and dog field trials was becoming a free for all. It was mostly interested in pedigree dog breeds until very recently. It now styles itself as representing all responsible dog-owners. It still has its Mayfair club headquarters in Clarges Street Mayfair.

Does the Kennel Club really represent all responsible dog-owners? They came in for severe criticism for supporting the breeding of pedigree dogs that were so inbred as to have major health problems. This led to the BBC stopping the broadcasting of Cruft’s dog show. Under severe public pressure, KC has brought in an accredited breeder scheme, though there have been accusations that the KC is judge and jury for breeders, since the KC is essentially a dog breeders club. Perhaps KC are trying to reinvent themselves as the “champions of the normal dog-owning public” to draw attention away from this unsavoury history.

The KC has issued a press release. The KC is against the proposal to introduce Dog Control Orders at Burnham Beeches. Their arguments are:

 

  • Restricting dog-walking (especially off-lead) at Burnham Beeches will displace dog-walking to less suitable places elsewhere – they mention “recreation grounds and playing fields” – which will be a bad thing.
  • Restricting off-lead dog-walking to areas that are grazed by livestock will be dangerous for dog-walkers.
  • Restricting off-lead dog-walking to areas with unsuitable terrain will make it difficult for older and disabled dog-walkers.
  • Dogs need regular off-lead exercise. Restricting the area available to them will threaten dog welfare.
  • Restricting the number of dogs walked by any one person to four is at odds with Defra guidance who advise that six dogs can safely be walked at a time.
  • The KC agree with encouraging dog-walkers to pick up after their dogs (but not to require it).
  • The KC quoted a local professional dog trainer Lorraine Gibbons who was worried about elderly and disabled dog-walkers “it is unrealistic to expect them to travel miles to other suitably large open areas for their dogs to get off-lead exercise”.
  • Gibbons goes on to suggest that the DCO will cause environmental damage by forcing dog-walkers to use their cars more.

The KC arguments seem, to me, to be based on their belief that there is a fundamental human right for dog-walkers to walk their dogs where they liked, on or off the lead, regardless of the impact of their behaviour on anyone or anything else.
They clearly feel a sense of entitlement. That they use elderly and disabled dog walkers to bolster their arguments does them no favours and smacks of opportunism even exploitation. They are all for responsible dog-walking but only on their terms.

 

They use veiled threats – that controlling dog-walking at Burnham Beeches will displace dog-walking to playing fields and recreation areas. Now why would that be a problem? Presumably because dog owners might not pick up their dog’s poo, or because there might be a danger that a dog attacked a child for example. As if that was ok at Burnham Beeches, or anywhere else.

Their attitude to livestock is very informative. They apparently support better practice for dog-walking and livestock; yet they clearly regard off-lead dog-walking as a higher priority than livestock grazing at Burnham Beeches. Guidance is clear, that dogs must be kept under control around livestock – livestock take precedence, not dogs.

In a briefing the Kennel Club have produced to help their members lobby against the Dog Control Order, they make a breathtaking claim  – that “the Kennel Club strongly opposes Schedule 2 as it is more extensive and restrictive than any other dog control order, national law or local bylaw in the UK, including on sites with much higher levels of nature conservation designation than Burnham Beeches. “

Just for the record, Burnham Beeches is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a National Nature Reserve and a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive. It is simply not possible for a site to have any higher level of nature conservation designation. Perhaps the Kennel Club have got this Burnham Beeches mixed up with another site of the same name? Or perhaps the Kennel Club have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

The Kennel Club goes on, in its briefing, to say

In addition, Burnham Beeches site is primarily designated for its ancient trees, which the Kennel Club does not believe are threatened by off-lead dogs. On other more sensitive sites, restrictions are timed to coincide with the nesting season, and not year round as proposed in Burnham Beeches. The Kennel Club would support targeted and proportionate restrictions.”

Now leaving aside whether trees have nesting seasons or not, Burnham Beeches SSSI is designated for its mature woodland, scrub and heath, including veteran trees. The Special Area of Conservation, whose considerably stronger protection drives the decision making process at Burnham, is designated for its Atlantic acidophilous Beech Forests.

The current, extremely brief, Conservation Objectives include maintaining or restoring “the supporting processes on which qualifying natural habitat and habitats of qualifying species rely.” Healthy soils devoid of nitrate, phospate and veterinary pesticides from dog excreta would, to my mind, fall into this category.

The KC has produced an audaciously biased online survey for dog-walkers to complete. Have a look at it here and compare with the methodology of the visitor survey conducted by the Corporation. It’s worth pointing out that this survey was conducted by Footprint Ecology, my current employers; I wasn’t involved in that particular contract.

I thought about filling the KC survey it in, but there are no options available that disagree with the KC’s position, only whether you agree with them strongly, or rabidly. No doubt the KC will spin the results of this survey to show how much support they have for opposing the Dog Control Order.

 

The Kennel Club delight in quoting from a letter from Natural England, who have not provided specific support for the Corporation of London’s proposals for Dog Control Orders at Burnham Beeches, because they felt the evidence was not strong enough. Of course the Kennel Club have turned this round and are erroneously claiming that Natural England are not supporting the DCO on doggy grounds.

 

I find Natural England’s position here highly dubious. Natural England has a duty to ensure that SSSIs and Special Areas of Conservation are in favourable condition. Natural England also has a duty to promote responsible access to nature. The Stanford Principle, which puts priority for nature over access, still stands, as far as I know. Natural England appear to have forgotten about this though.

 

NE has cosyed up to the Kennel Club and it appears are now frightened of upsetting them. This again illustrates the political influence the KC wield; and of course the dog-breeding fraternity are closely aligned with the hunting and shooting fraternity. Although NE is not actively supporting the introduction of DCOs at Burnham Beeches, they have introduced them to National Nature Reserves that they manage themselves, including Castle Eden Dene NNR in Newcastle.

Amazingly, Natural England does not consider the impacts of recreational behavior such as dog-walking on the condition of SSSIs or European Sites. So Burnham Beeches is still assessed as in favourable condition despite having 50 tonnes of dog poo deposited on it every year, as are many lowland heathland SSSIs where ground-nesting birds are regularly disturbed from their nests by dogs off leads. So that would explain why NE could find no evidence to support the introduction of DCO – because they are actively not looking for it!

This is typical byzantine logic.

1. NE: Let’s not look for evidence of the impact of recreation on wildlife.
2. Having not looked for it, NE hasn’t found it.
3. Not having found it, NE decide the site is in favourable condition.
4. NE is asked to support actions that will limit the impact of recreation.
5. NE says “we can’t support these proposals, as there is no evidence.”

Is Natural England running scared of the Kennel Club and their powerful political friends?

One of the opponents of the Corporation of London’s proposals is Alex Deane. Deane is Head of Public Affairs at Uber lobbyists Weber Shandwick. He was David Cameron’s first chief of staff, was Director of  Big Brother Watch – an offshoot of the Tax Payers Alliance, which has been widely regarded as an Astroturf outfit; and is a Common Councilman of the City of  London. This means he has been elected as a politician in the City. The City is a very odd place from a democratic perspective, because only a very small number of people can vote in Council elections; Deane was voted in by 236 votes, his opponent got 221. Uniquely, in the City residents (are very few) have votes but so do businesses, the number of votes available dependent on the size of the company.

Deane opposed the DCO proposal from the very beginning, from within the City. He has offered to help the Kennel Club fight the proposal, and we can assume that he is doing exactly that. Expect to see questions in Parliament and a lot more besides – no doubt there will be much lobbying in the background to see of this proposal.

Although all this is happening in a leafy corner of South Buckinghamshire, the ramifications are far wider. If the KC is successful in persuading the Corporation not to introduce the Dog Control Order, this will send a strong message out to other local authorities and statutory bodies, that they will not be able to restrict the activities of the dog-walking public through regulatory means. And once again a powerful politically connected vested interest will hold sway over the rights of society to protect public social and environmental goods such as nature, or even just enjoying a walk on a nature reserve or in the countryside – without a dog.

But there is an alternative. If dog walkers want to exercise their dogs off-lead and not pick up their poo, why don’t they band together and buy land where they can do what they like? Yesterday we went for a walk and I saw a field specifically set aside for dog-walkers staying at the local holiday park.

 

IMG_0197

Highlands Park Dog Meadow ((c) Miles King)

It is managed as a hay meadow with paths around the edge kept mown short. Other people can use it, on the understanding that it is there primarily for dog-walkers. Now there is still plenty of dog poo on the surrounding network of paths, including the coast path, but the holiday park is doing its best to cater for its dog-walkers. I’m not suggesting dog-walkers shouldnt be able to use public spaces or private land, but if they do, then they must abide by the law and show respect for other users, by picking up all their dog poo and keeping their dogs under close control.

 

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About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in corporate lobbying, dog poo, dogs, greenspace, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Kennel Club challenges Corporation of London over Burnham Beeches Dog Control

  1. Its weird that the visitor survey by CoL only found that “3% of people choose to visit BB because of the trees and 2% visit because of the wildlife interest”. Pretty sad – do you have any idea why the proportions are so low for non-dog walkers and dog walkers alike? Could it be a survey design flaw? I would be interested to see the raw data from the survey – do you think it will be made available – it was conducted by the consultancy you work with I think?

  2. Miles King says:

    thanks Sarah. No I don’t think it’s a design flaw, the results just reflect the reasons visitors gave.

    You would have to ask Burnham Beeches to see the raw data.

    Yes Footprint are the lead consultancy for visitor surveys on wildlife sites.

  3. Lizzie Wilberforce says:

    We’ve had to do the same on one of our sites, again a nature reserve with domestic and European designations. A shame, because it’s a minority spoiling it for the majority, but no other measure we’ve tried has made enough of a difference.

    • Miles King says:

      thanks Lizzie. It would be interesting to know how many nature reserves have dog control orders on them or are in the process of introducing them, now that the law enables them to be introduced on privately owned land.

  4. thehutts says:

    I can’t speak for Burnham Beeches as it is a long time since I played there as a child but I would support some of the proposed suggestions. With regards to livestock and dogs on leads it all depends on the livestock. If you are chased by a cow separated from its calf by a dog the health and safety advise is let the dog go – the dog will get out of the way but the human might not. The poo issue is a difficult one and where I work in the Northumberland uplands unwormed dogs are a problem to farmers and their livelihoods if the poo is left but I can’t abide to see poo picked up and left to rot because people can’t be bothered to take it to a bin- it doesn’t rot very quickly even in biodegradable bags. Forestry Commission guidelines where I work is flick it off certain paths so people/bikes/young children don’t step in it. I am sure you are aware that children eating worm infested poo is also a health hazard. Sally

    • Miles King says:

      Thanks very much Sally. I am not at all convinced by the stick and flick policy as all it does is hide the problem, not solve it.

      • thehutts says:

        Yes but when I am working I can’t leave it on public rights of way and this is the best means by which I can do a quick tidy up. I do wish it wasn’t necessary and people cleaned up after their dogs. I had to dispose of another little bag of poo yesterday as the person couldn’t be bothered to find a bin for it! Sally

      • Miles King says:

        Thanks Sally. Perhaps stick and flick is letting people get away with leaving their dog’s poo wherever it is deposited. They know you will come along and deal with it.

      • thehutts says:

        I have been called the peanut fairy by a member of the public as I fill bird feeders which I don’t mind. I hate having to be a poo fairy! Sally

      • Miles King says:

        ah but if there was a real dog poo fairy that would solve many dog-related problems!

        Sadly there is no dog poo fairy, but I sometimes think some dog-owners believe there is.

      • thehutts says:

        The stick and flick policy does not amuse those that have to strim the verges!

      • Miles King says:

        I can well imagine. yuk.

  5. navasolanature says:

    As a dog lover and former owner of a beautiful golden retriever(dare I say KC registered but rejected because too gold!)However I am also very interested in nature conservation I am amazed and shocked by the Kennel Club response. Or am I as you give some very clear details as to who controls this organisation? Dog owners need constant education about the effects on the environment of owning a dog. Who can help do that? At present I am trying to understand the ecology and interconnectedness of the natural world. Today in Spain I have never seen so many butterflies on the wing and landing on the’weeds’. Weeds I was told to clear but I have the evidence of their role for the butterflies and bees.Thanks for a very detailed account and when in London I live near Burnham beeches so will look this up.

    • Miles King says:

      Thanks very much for your comment. Yes “weeds” is a very subjective word as some are simply wildflowers, rather than crop. Ideally organisations like The Kennel Club would play the role you describe, helping dog owners understand the impact of their dog on the environment (and society) and how to minimise that impact. At the moment it would appear that they are nowhere near playing this role.

  6. I suggest anyone not familiar with Burnham Beeches, its layout & usage , take a trip over there & see for themselves.
    There’s nothing new about the grazing animals- they’ve been doing so since 1992 , they will however once again be contained by “invisible fences” (I’m not sure how the Ponies will react to this, as in my experience they will rush through the barrier shock or no shock)

    No regular responsible Dog walkers have a wish to “exercise their dogs off-lead and not pick up their poo”, quite the opposite in fact – we are picking up after others & also removing discarded cans, bottles & other discarded items, some believe it or not, left by people who don’t even own dogs.

    The proposals wont stop people not picking up after their dogs ( I myself offered to promote the Keep Britain Tidy/Dogs Trust “National Poop Scoop” campaign last year on site & never had a reply from CoL. If they were so eager to solve the problem I’m sure they’d have accepted my offer.
    Nor will they stop dogs excreting (Dogs urinate on & off lead & I doubt anyone carries a bottle to catch it….. but how else would the 30 tonnes figure come about ?)
    They wont stop out of control dog incidents either, a dog will be out of control regardless of signs – irresponsible owners ( the type we see who only exercise their dogs on Bank Holidays) ignore the common sense, basics of off lead dog control, such as keeping your dog in sight, away from roaming animals, nesting birds & out of ponds – why would more signs change that ? They wouldn’t care if they were banned from the site.

    Personally I don’t think professional dog walkers (Walking over the DEFRA recommendation of 6 Dogs) should be allowed on site without being registered & holding public liability insurance.
    Whether the dogs are on or off lead.
    Us regular walkers would happily have a voluntary register of ourselves & our dogs – & monitor non-regular users ( The Rangers have better things to be doing )

    The survey suggested that 0% of Dog walkers are interested in the wildlife & nature scape of the Beeches. I KNOW this is flawed, as I myself was questioned & ( as the rangers would all tell you) I have a deep interest in the environment, survey work etc that is carried out there. I also have thousands of photo’s taken of the wildlife & plant life throughout the seasons.

    Several elderly/disabled people have walked there all their lives without incident, they are absolutely devastated by the proposals.
    As an elderly gent said to me recently; dogs don’t climb & damage the trees, start fires, ride bikes at speed off road & drop rubbish everywhere.

    Finally Mr King – your comments re’ the Kennel Club are more than slightly flawed, it has evolved over the years ( as have so many organisations) They do some fabulous work & are constantly promoting responsible ownership – surely that’s what we all want?

    • Miles King says:

      Thanks very much for your comment – is it Lorraine? I think you were quoted in the Kennel Club press release, forgive me if I have mistaken you for someone else.

      I think I have answered all your points in the blog itself so there’s not much point repeating myself.

    • thehutts says:

      Well said (although I have no experience of the kennel club so can’t comment on that) Sally

  7. Linda Roberts says:

    I love nature and appreciate it in the UK. However I am one of those dog walkers in Burnham Beeches. I go there at least 3x a week.

    There is an air of disappointment from the vast majority of responsible dog owners who go there. The voluntary consultation you mention above has been poor with meetings taking place with no one attending representing the dog walkers as we don’t know about them.

    Although all responsible owners have dogs under control and pick up their poo as that’s because they are responsible! There are a number of dog owners who do behave badly and I’m afraid introducing an order will not make them change their behaviours. It will just punish the responsible.

    The area proposed for off lead walking is not very accessible and although 220 acres a fraction of that will be used as it’s very hilly and boggy. A poor beagle got stuck there for a few hours the other week causing much distress.

    It is also not suitable for any walker with mobility issues. This includes elderly, disabled and parents with buggy dog owners. Dogs are important companions to these people and their dogs will suffer from not getting sufficient exercise.

    I whole hearted support responsible dog ownership but really don’t see how the proposed changes to burnham beeches will achieve it

    • Miles King says:

      Thanks very much for your comment Linda. There is some interesting research about how many dog-owners think that dog-owners should pick up after their dog, and how many actually do. I think there is a lot of denial among dog-walkers about the impact of dog poo on other users of a site.

      This report is worth a read “understanding the psychology of walkers with dogs”

      http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/215080

      If responsible dog owners really will pick up their dog’s poo, then they won’t be punished.

      I think your final comments make my point for me. You make it sound like Burnham Beeches was established as a dog-walking area. It was not, it was established as an open space for all types of people to enjoy; and since then (and for a very long time) it has been recognised as being one of the most important areas for nature in the whole of Europe. The Corporation are very worried that the evidence is indicating that the impacts of dog-walking are damaging this natural value and they have been trying through voluntary means to minimise this impact. As they feel these voluntary efforts have not been successful, they are now proposing moving to something more achievable.

      The proposed Dog Control Order is not primarily intended to support responsible dog ownership – its purpose is to protect the very great natural value of Burnham Beeches. It is the Kennel Club that should be supporting responsible dog ownership by supporting Burnham Beeches’ proposals to limit the impact of dog-walking on this unique site, instead of treating it as a dog toilet, or at the least a place to stretch your dog’s legs.

  8. Pingback: Tory Constituency Candidates: of the people, by the people, for the people? | a new nature blog

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