However, we believe this project has the potential to extend far beyond our water vole reintroduction and could have implications for wildlife more generally. By recruiting dog walkers to engage other dog walkers, we hope to encourage more nature-friendly walking activities. This is especially important as dog ownership has been on the rise over the past year, and with many people getting dogs for the first time, it is more important than ever to spread the word.
This is especially true as most dog walkers are nature lovers and often issues dogs can pose to wildlife are largely not known about. For example, recent research demonstrated the impacts of flea treatments on aquatic invertebrate species. Furthermore, while dogs off the lead generally don’t cause a direct issue to wildlife, by just approaching wild animals, they can cause stress to many species whose evolutionary instinct is to sound the alarm when perceived predators approach.
The flip side of this argument is that by encouraging safe distances and behaviours around wildlife, you are reducing the chances of injuries to your dog. In our deer parks, such as Richmond Park, deer can feel threatened by dogs, even when they are not acting in a provocative manner and can attack as a result.
At the beginning of our journey to engage dog walkers, we thought it would be useful to collate a list of top tips from our engagement group, which will kickstart our journey:
- Do not use flea collars on dogs when they are out.
- Consider switching to a flea treatment that is non-threatening to invertebrates and other species.
- Don’t allow dogs into rivers, ponds etc, unless into a specific area where dogs are allowed to enter, i.e. ‘sacrificial zones’ or even ‘sacrificial ponds’.
- Keep your dog under control especially in Spring and Summer when young animals are around.
- Teach your dog recall to prevent them from going too near to wildlife.
- Always clear up, dispose of or take away dog poo.
- Stick to the main paths with your dogs, so as to avoid areas reserved for just wildlife.
- In areas where deer are present, try to walk your dogs in other spaces during the rutting (September-November) and birthing (May-July) seasons.
- Always keep your dog under control, either on a lead or in sight– this is important for wildlife as well as the public, who may be scared of dogs.
- Any single person should walk no more than 4 dogs at any time, as lots of dogs are harder to control.
- All should be in sight at all times.
- Any that are not 100% trusted off the lead should remain on.
- Always stay in full control.
- Stay aware from areas dogs are not permitted – there is always a reason why some spaces are not for dogs to access.
If you would like to join our Dog Walker Engagement Group, why not sign up for our Water Vole Project newsletter and updates here? If you would like to support this project or others, you could become a member or donate today.
Finally, if you have any further suggestions on ways to walk your dog in a nature-friendly way, why not drop us an email on [email protected]