Nature reserves are special havens for wildlife. Dogs are a beloved companion for many people. However, to wildlife dogs represent a terrifying predator. Scientific studies have shown that areas with regular dog walking can see a 35% reduction in wildlife as animals flee the area.
We manage our nature reserves so they are safe havens for wildlife and for the people who come to enjoy nature. We are very aware that many of our members also enjoy walking their dogs on our reserves, and many dog walkers contribute a great deal to nature conservation. We therefore ask people to be extremely mindful of the impact dogs have on wildlife.
Science - for an in depth look at scientific studies into dogs on nature reserves and real world examples see the article at the bottom of the page by our colleagues at Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.
British wildlife has been conditioned to fear canine predators after millions of years of being hunted by wolves and foxes. To a ground nesting bird there is little difference between a wolf, dog or fox. Over 9 million dogs now regularly roam the British countryside with their owners. A huge pressure on wildlife.
Free roaming dogs
Free roaming dogs can cause the biggest disturbance to wildlife as they often flush wildlife out of hiding, sometimes killing animals. They can also chase, kill and eviscerate livestock. Unfortunately we have had many incidents of livestock being killed and injured in this way.
Dog mess is an unsightly, disgusting problem in areas with regular dog walking. It can even change the soil nutrient quality and affect vegetation.
Neosporosis can cause serious harm to both cattle and dogs. Dogs walking on areas with livestock can become infected with Neospora after eating the afterbirth of an infected cow, and the eggs shed in their faeces and left in fields are infectious for up to six months. Cattle can then consume these eggs in pasture land. Neosporosis is the most commonly diagnosed cause of abortion in cattle in the UK. Neosporosis is also dangerous to dogs, particularly young and older dogs.
For the protection of wildlife and livestock we ask people to keep their dogs under close control, ideally on a lead. Please see the dogs section on each nature reserve page for more info.
There are many public footpaths, open spaces and country parks where you can go dog walking instead of on a nature reserve. Dogs are also permitted on sites covered by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) and on public rights of way.
This video by the South Downs National Park authority is well worth a watch.
We're doing our best to encourage responsible dog walking on our reserves. At some of our reserves our 'walking wardens' monitor wildlife, speak with visitors and keep an eye out for any problems, such as fouling. Our Irthlingborough reserve has a special 'doggy dip' area where your pooch can cool off. We've also held dog training sessions at Blow's Downs in Bedfordshire - and hope to hold more in the future.
Meanwhile, here's how you can help to keep our nature reserves safe and enjoyable for all of us.
- Play close attention to signs at the reserve entrance, which may change seasonally.
- Keep your dog in sight and under close control at all times. Be certain it will come when called.
- It is illegal to worry livestock, so we will always ask you to put your dog on a lead around sheep, and often around cattle.
- Be mindful of the way your dog interacts with other visitors.
- Clear up after your dog and dispose of the waste in bins.
- If someone asks you to control your dog or put it on a lead, please do so.