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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Project Poo

Why are we doing this?

Increasing numbers of people visit the countryside each year and more and more people are enjoying the benefits of inviting a dog into their family. We’re delighted so many people are enjoying the countryside whilst being aware that increased numbers of people also means increased strain on facilities, habitats and the potential for conflicts between visitors.

After an increasing number of complaints and concerns about the amount of dog poo, including from our own groups of young volunteers, unable to find a place to put down their tools and picnics, we felt this problem merited some attention. It has always been the Eastern Moors policy that dog walkers are welcome on site providing their dogs are under effective control* at all times of the year, and that poo is bagged and binned, or taken home.

Dogs are domestic visitors to the countryside, just like people, and their waste can take up to two months to degrade. Dog poo can carry a number of diseases which are potentially dangerous for wildlife, livestock, people and other dogs. One such disease, Toxocariasis can remain in ground for many years. The risk of Toxocariasis is elimated almost entirely if the poo is cleared up immediately. For more information about Toxocariasis please visit the NHS website. Another disease is Neosporosis, responsible for over 10% of abortions in livestock and can also seriously affect dogs. Please see the reference list for more information about this.

What about wildlife and livestock?

Foxes are part of the Canis (dog) family and their waste carries similar diseases including toxicaris. However a rural habitat like the Eastern Moors, supports wild fox populations at a low density with each fox roaming over a large territory.  Dogs on the other hand visit the moors in high numbers, with many of them concentrated in popular spots. This means that an unsustainable volume of waste is left on the moors if people do not clear up after their dogs. On the first “poo count” 70 poos were counted in the first 200 metres along Curbar Edge, directly either side of the path. This is also likely to be an underestimation as degraded poo was only counted if it was still unmistakably doggy.

Dog poo also has the potential to impact the character of the SSSI habitat. Nutrient-poor habitats such as heathland are particularly sensitive to the fertilising effect of inputs of phosphates, nitrogen and potassium from dog faeces. Eutrophication, the increasing of nutrients, of habitats, is recognised as a major threat to some of our best loved habitats including low-nutrient heather moorlands. The majority of this is due to atmospheric pollution deposits but the localised effects of dog poo are also documented on habitats such as heathland and chalk grasslands. It might seem like there is already a lot of other poo on the moors, however this is from livestock and wildlife which roam free, and feed on the moor, therefore  recycle nutrients consumed onsite. Whereas dogs are not part of the ecosystem so  their waste results in a net increase in the amount of nutrients onsite, potentially changing the character of the moorland habitat.   

What next?

The Eastern Moors is a special place for both people and wildlife so it is important that we protect the habitat and ensure that this remains a place that everyone enjoys visiting. Our recent visitor survey identified that half of people felt dog waste was an issue in some areas with some people feeling very strongly that this was an unpleasant problem that limited their enjoyment and the chance for their own pet or child to explore safely.

Our habitat research is ongoing, with soil samples and vegetation surveys being undertaken to investigate if dog poo is having an impact on the moorland. Biodegradable spray paint is being used to count and track the amount of poo in areas close to the car parks.

Our policy remains unchanged, dog walkers will always be welcome to enjoy this special area responsibly, keeping their dogs under close control and bag and bin the poop*. Primarily this is an issue of volume, so if we can take steps to reduce the amount of poo left on site we think this will have a big impact on people’s enjoyment. Clear signs and a code of conduct as well as bins available wherever possible could help ease the problem in hot spots near to car parks. Any action taken will be in keeping with this wild and open landscape to protect the spirit of place that makes this such a valued area.

How can you help?

Dog walkers are important guardians of this special landscape, often they are out on site earlier and later than staff and know the area inside out. Everyone visiting the countryside has not just a right to enjoy it, but a responsibility to protect it. We know that this is a responsibility dog walkers take very seriously.  

You can help us by bagging and binning your dog’s poo, especially near to car parks and main routes where an accumulation of waste can be unpleasant for other visitors. Do so also sets a precedence for other dog walkers.

*”Stick and flick” is encouraged on some woodland sites, however, due to the threat of disease to livestock which graze the Eastern Moors, and people exploring the open access land off path, we would discourage this.  

*Effective Control means within sight at all times and returning to the owner immediately when called or be kept on a lead.

Key References:

Soil phosphorus as an indicator of canine faecal pollution in urban recreation areas Carol Bonner, A.D.Q. Agnew Environmental pollution Series B, Chemical and Physical Volume 6, Issue 2, 1983 

Guildford Borough Council Draft Local Plan: strategy and sites Habitats Regulations Assessment July 2014 URS Job: 47063354 Prepared for: Guildford Borough Counci
Impacts of trampling and dog fouling on vegetation and soil conditions on Headley Heath. SHAW, P.J.A., LANKEY, K., & HOLLINGHAM, S.A. 1995. The London Naturalist, 74, 77-82