ePetition - Allow dogs off-lead at Waterhall alongside rewilding

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ePetition details

Allow dogs off-lead at Waterhall alongside rewilding

We the undersigned petition Brighton & Hove Council to abandon the decision to ban off-lead dogs across all of Waterhall. We believe that there are ways that this area can be rewilded whilst still providing access to people and dogs off lead. This is done at many other nature reserves, SSSIs and rewilding projects across the country. We would like the council to work with the current users of this area (overwhelmingly off-lead dog walkers) to find a way to share this 222-acre space.

Wildlife at Waterhall has thrived for decades alongside dogs being walked off-lead. Stock has grazed in fenced compartments with dogs able to divert safely around. We would like to see this extended to the rest of the site (ex-golf course). The method is proven.

The council’s claims of damage caused by dogs at Waterhall don’t stand up to scrutiny. The council’s report has no information about the site directly, only adjoining land. People who have walked in the area for decades talk about the wealth of species there and the improving diversity of them. The council should see this as a success of their management, not as a failure. To make such a decision, which effectively bans (and criminalises if the council’s plans are implemented) off-lead dogs does not seem justified or proportionate.

We feel that the aims of increasing biodiversity and rewilding can, by using techniques applied elsewhere such as zoning, be met while still allowing dogs off-lead in rotating areas. A win-win

We call on Brighton and Hove council to find a way for off-lead dogs and their humans to enjoy Waterhall as they have for decades. Vital for the physical and mental health of people and canines. We support the following recommendations from the Brighton Dogwatch report:

1. Pause implementation to review issues/feedback. The lack of discussion and consultation before the council report was presented/agreed really necessitates this. The implementation seems to need enforcement, and this won’t be available until a PSPO is introduced. This is a complex and lengthy process.
2. Look at zoning Waterhall and how the 222-acres and footpaths can be shared, including with dogs off-lead. With traditional fencing, signposting, and social media the land can be shared with dogs off lead in parts as it is now. This has worked well for many years. We believe that there are the skills and knowledge across the council and other organisations to deliver a win-win rather than the current lose-lose plan. We think the plan as stands will have on-going conflict, have issues around stock welfare and dangers/issues of dog displacement to other, less suitable, areas. We have proposed some ideas with “full rewilding”, rotating compartments for stock/grazing (as now) and off-lead dog areas.
3. Re-introduce local regular dog walkers to Stanmer Park. Most regulars have been displaced by the pay as you go parking charges. An annual fee (at a reasonable level of £32-£80 using the Forestry Commission, National Trust and Ashford Forest as benchmarks) will help bring people/dogs back and take pressure off other areas. This will also provide an incremental revenue stream for the council and reduce local driving. Without regular dog walking at Stanmer Park, we think the council is starting a “whack-a-mole” dog walking displacement game like the controlled parking zones but without any revenue. That is not good for anyone!
4. Install more dog poo bins at Waterhall (as recommended in the report that the council quoted). Consider a small area at the walk start to encourage dog toileting. Signs explaining/educating why. The issue of dog poo was reported by the council as far back as 2011 and possibly earlier. We don’t understand why more poo bins haven’t been installed at some point in the last decade!
5. Look at the ecological, environmental and safety impacts from displacing dog walking. There should be conclusions that can be drawn from the change from Stanmer Park to Waterhall which can inform this debate. Along with likely extra travel to other sites (and the tonnes of extra CO2 from this). These impacts and consequences should be part of the decision-making process. If the council squeezes dogs from one area then, like a balloon, they will increase in another area. Many of these areas are far less suitable with more roads, children’s play areas, sport fields etc. This risks injuries to dogs, children and lots of community issues.
6. Develop a strategy for dogs across the city. Currently, the council’s approach has only been negative, banning or taxing (by parking charges) dog walking. With the benefits to human physical and mental health, the million extra hours locally of exercise that it brings and the around a third of households who own a dog, there needs to be a strategy. There was initial interest for one in 2020 from the council, but it was abandoned.

This ePetition runs from 11/05/2022 to 20/06/2022.

351 people have signed this ePetition.

Council response

Will be presented to the Environment, Transport & Sustainability Committee on 21 June 2022


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