Agenda item


The Chair welcomed Julie Owen, Devon Loves Dogs Co-ordinator.


Julie explained her role was funded by the South East Devon Habitat Regulations Partnership (SEDHRP).  The Partnership included East Devon District Council, Teignbridge District Council, Exeter City Council, Natural England, Clinton Devon Estates, the RSPB, Devon Wildlife Trust and the Exe Estuary Management Partnership.


The SEDHRP was formed to protect three special wildlife sites:  the Pebblebed Heaths, Exe Estuary and Dawlish Warren.  All sites are Special Protection Areas (SPA) and included a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Ramsar site and National Nature Reserve (NNR).  Funding for the post came through developer contributions within a 10 km zone.  Julie Owen agreed to clarify the 10km zone area.


The aims of the project were to:


      Protect the designated sites from increasing levels of disturbance as a result of population growth.

      Encourage responsible dog walking in the countryside.

      Build a community of dog walkers who appreciate and protect their local countryside.

      Promote positive dog ownership in the wider community.


Dog ownership had seen an increase and it was estimated that 25% of households in the SW have at least one dog.


The Devon Loves Dogs project focused on the following:


      Free membership scheme for dogs and their owners

      Pledge to follow the Fours Paws Code

      Welcome pack of goodies

      Invites to regular Waggy Walks

      A photo of their dog added to the members gallery

      Quarterly e-newsletter


Much time had been devoted to developing the simple messages in the Four Paws Code, namely:


ü  Do read and follow signs and notices

ü  Do prevent your dog from chasing wildlife or grazing animals

ü  Do protect nesting and feeding birds on heaths, dunes and wetlands

ü  Do bag it and bin it wherever you are

ü  Do keep your dog in sight and think of other visitors

ü  Do limit the number of dogs you walk


Devon Loves Dogs attended events, including Woofstock (Powderham) and had pop-up gazebos on the three sites and at popular dog walking spots. Information on dog walking was provided plus training on how to pick up poo, geared primarily at children.

Regular ‘waggy walks’ were held so that participants feel confident in the countryside and know why the Four Paws Code is important.


The Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust (Clinton Devon Estates) was an active partner and a walk was held monthly.  The heaths permitted dogs, horses and cycles and there were codes of conduct for each group.  Devon Loves Dogs had worked with the Trust on the dog code.


Key information on the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths included: 


·         1400 Hectares of lowland heath

·         73% of people visit with a dog

·         Open access for dogs, bikes & horses

·         Training ground for Royal Marines

·         Dartford Warblers and Nightjars

·         Internationally important.

·         Main issues: dog poo, disturbance, interactions with other users.


Devon Loves Dogs programme of work was enhanced by additional signage and information, for example encouraging night or dusk walkers to pick up poo, and special events.


The Pebblebed Heaths Dog Walking Code included:


ü  Keep your dog in sight, on the path and have recall. Otherwise use a lead.

ü   Always pick up after your dog, take waste home or put it in a bin.

ü  Protect your dog from disturbing wildlife or grazing animals.

ü  Walk no more than six dogs, ensure you can manage them all at the same time.

ü  Read and follow signs and report any problems.

ü  Commercial dog walkers need a licence from the land manager.


Key information on the Exe Estuary and Dawlish Warren included:


      Intertidal mud flats, sandbanks, salt marsh and wet meadows.

      Each winter home to more than 20,000 migratory water birds.

      Busy estuary, popular for dog walking, watersports, bird watching and much more.

      Introduction of two Wildlife Refuges at Dawlish Warren & Exmouth.

      Dog walking is a major cause of disturbance


The wildlife refuges were voluntary, with Dawlish Warren mudflats all year round and Exmouth Duck Pond from 15 September to end of December when the migratory birds finish feeding on the eel grass beds.


Again, a dog code of conduct had been developed for the Exe Estuary and Dawlish Warren.  Dog owners were a harder group to consult with than specific users associated with other codes.


In terms of legislation, PSPO’s replaced Dog Control Orders in 2014 and local authorities must review and consult on changes every three years. There was variation in rules between Exeter City, East Devon and Teignbridge.  The PSPO’s cover dog exclusion areas, picking up, dogs on leads and in Teignbridge and East Devon a maximum of six dogs walked was specified. In Teignbridge a dog walker must have the means to pick up, but this was not specified in East Devon. East Devon was currently consulting on changes to rules on beaches.


Two wildlife wardens were employed by the Partnership across the protected sites.


Dawlish Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space (SANGS) site, 65 acres, opened in 2017, funded through developer contributions.  The aim is to provide dog walking areas away from the sensitive wildlife sites.  The site has a free car park, is relatively dog secure, and there are no restrictions or livestock.  The site has 18,000 visitors per month.


Ridgetop SANGS on the edge of Exeter was open, 42 acres, but work is being done to complete the car park before fully promoting it. Its final size will be 94 acres.


Devon Loves Dogs was set up following the best practice of Dorset Dogs and there is now collaboration through a wider network SCCAMP – Southern Counties Canine Access Management Partnership.  This provided the opportunity to share expertise and good practice.


A discussion followed.


Julie said although some monitoring takes place on wildlife and visitor engagement, it is difficult to monitor behaviour change and what is working. 


Whilst specific dog friendly sites where there are no bikes or horses were useful, it was expensive to provide SANGS and land acquisition was difficult.  Cranbrook had a dog secure training area.


The importance of working with planning authorities to plan in such areas was mentioned.  Although green space was often included, its use was not specific.  It was noted that the Environmental Improvement Plan had just been published and stated that everyone should live within 15 minutes of a green space.


Julie said advice is given at the pop-up gazebos on considering what a dog is bred for.  For example, spaniels were bred to flush out game.


Dog bins were funded by the Habitat Regulations Partnership on the Pebblebed Heaths and emptying was paid for by Clinton Devon Estates.  Devon Loves Dogs talked about different types of bags including biodegradable ones and encouraged people not to leave waste in bags.  Forestry England had a mixed response to its earlier ‘stick and flick’ message.  The message should be to pick up everywhere.  Whereas people cited poo from other animals as being a reason not to pick up, the number of dogs and significantly higher level of bacteria posed issues.  If more people acted responsibly sites could accept higher numbers of dog walkers.


Dog walkers needed to be told the importance of throwing sticks along the path, rather than off it, to avoid disturbing ground nesting birds.  People were often unaware of livestock worrying.


Julie was thanked for her informative talk which demonstrated the importance of education.  She would let the Forum know if it could assist in any way.