Dogs and conflict with wildlife on the rise?
Recent research by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) found that 2.1 million new pets were acquired since lockdown, 57% of them dogs. With the rise in ownership, comes increased responsibility of owners to control their animals. While our pets might bring us much joy, as analogues of their wild cousins (dogs descended from wolves), their presence alone can cause heightened stress for our wild animals. A combination of rising dog ownership and our increased usage of local green spaces during lockdown has led to dog-wildlife conflict gaining notoriety.
Richmond Park has made headlines in recent weeks for a series of attacks on deer by dogs (in 2020 four deer have died and there were 58 incidents of dogs chasing deer), as well as the impact they can have on ground-nesting skylarks. Just this week a dog attack on a seal pup named ‘Freddie’ on the river Thames in Putney led to his euthanasia by wildlife vets (sadly, this was the same seal pup moved from Teddington in Kingston, which many of our local community may have seen). While we don’t know for sure if the incidences are on the rise (no research is currently available), the fact we are spending time in our local green spaces means these stories are more and more in the public sphere.
Perhaps of even more concern is the unseen and largely unknown impact of our pets’ flea treatments on our watercourses. Research conducted in 2020 found traces of fiprinol, a deadly nerve agent in 99% of samples taken from 20 rivers across the country. This pesticide is highly effective in killing insects and is likely to have a devastating impact on our freshwater invertebrates.
As users of green spaces, including our rivers, nature reserves and parks, dog owners are likely to be some of the biggest advocates of protecting these spaces and in 99% of cases would never cause harm to wildlife on purpose. In fact, in the instance of flea treatments on watercourses, most dog walkers are probably unaware of the impacts this can have.
Dog Walker Engagement Strategy
We recently launched our Dog Walker Engagement Strategy, which was born out of the need to reduce riverbank trampling by dogs as part of our Water Vole Reintroduction Project. Once released, key to their long term survival and dispersal along the Hogsmill river will be areas of undisturbed vegetation, which they require for food and protection from predators. The strategy will seek to work with dog walkers to educate and engage other dog walkers about nature-friendly practices through various media platforms, including video, leaflets, signage and events. While integral to the water vole project, we see this engagement strategy as having potentially national implications, as we seek to educate people about nature-friendly dog walking to reduce accidental harm to wildlife.
Dog walkers needed on Wednesday 31st March
As part of the strategy, we are working with Kingston University Architecture students, who have been tasked with designing dog-friendly infrastructures containing ‘sacrificial ponds’ that dogs can use to splash around in, without causing inadvertent harm to the local wildlife. These structures will also contain areas for owners to socialise and relax. We are really pleased that the students will be presenting their designs to us on Wednesday 31st March from 19.00-20.30 and we will be able to give detailed feedback to them directly.
If you are, or you know of any dog walkers who would be interested in joining the call and giving feedback, please get in touch with Ben on [email protected]oo.org, who will be able to provide details of the call. Please also find a calendar invite here.
Other ways to get involved
If you would like to support our Dog Walker Engagement Strategy or our Mission to Rewild Our Future, please consider a donation or becoming a member today.