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 ran from 11/05/2022 to 20/06/2022 and has now finished.

1264 people signed this ePetition.

Council response

Thank you for your petition.

Dog walking at the former Waterhall Golf course was not permitted other than on public rights of way. We appreciate that in the time that the golf course was operational some residents and dog walking businesses became used to exercising dogs over the whole site. Dogs can still be exercised off lead in the lower section of Waterhall and many other parks and open spaces in the city. However, the site cannot cope with the volume of dogs being exercised whilst trying to achieve our objectives of rewilding and restoring the biodiversity of the site.

In rewilding Waterhall, the council has sought to encourage public access and is in the process of designating the site as statutory open access. This does however require dogs to be kept on leads during the bird nesting season and around livestock in recognition of the impact they can have on them.

Dogs also impact other wildlife, in particular cold-blooded animals which need to bask to regulate their body temperature. Frequent disturbance impacts on their ability to hunt and reproduce and leads to a decline in numbers.

Disturbance by off lead dogs also affects other users of the site with reports of stolen volunteers’ lunches and dogs entering the building and urinating on the furniture.

The council has funding from the National Heritage Lottery Fund for an Education Ranger and from Countryside Stewardship to provide school visits to the site. These are not feasible with large numbers of off lead dogs, as have been experienced at Waterhall

Dog excrement is also an issue in low fertility habitats, such as the species rich chalk grassland we are trying to manage for at Waterhall. Dog faeces and urine increase the fertility of the ground favouring the more common coarser species over the rarer wildflowers.

The wildflowers are important for the insects and other species that they support. By requiring dogs to be kept on leads and encouraging people to use waymarked paths, this impact can be limited and kept away from the more sensitive areas.
Flea treatments used on dogs can have a serious impact on aquatic species.

Constant disturbance of ponds also releases nutrients from the sediments which can lead to algal blooms which limit oxygen and can make the water toxic. The sediment in the water also limits the penetration of sunlight into the pond limiting its ability to support wildlife.

With respect to displacement, Waterhall is already suffering displacement from Stanmer Park as many dog walkers have started using Waterhall to avoid paying parking charges at Stanmer. These dog walkers are already potentially increasing their travel if they live closer to Stanmer and are now travelling to Waterhall.

Due to its location, most dog walkers who access Waterhall arrive by vehicle. If these dog walkers used sites closer to where they live, they could reduce their C02 emissions.

The council is not alone in seeking to limit the impact of dogs on biodiversity. Other Nature Reserve have limited access to some or all areas such as Sussex Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Woods Mill where dogs are not allowed and at Knepp where they limit all public access to some areas.

This petition should be considered in light of a petition to the January 2020 Tourism, Equalities, Communities & Culture Committee which received 5216 signatories asking it to “Create a Haven for Wildlife and Wellbeing by Restoring Biodiversity of Hollingbury and Waterhall golf courses”.

The council allows dog walking on almost all of its untenanted land and has not prioritised wildlife over dog walking on any other site despite declaring a biodiversity emergency,


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