Dog walking on reserves

Dog walking on reserves

Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

Our canine code

We want you to visit and enjoy our nature reserves, but it is also important that we are able to explain how you can also play a part in ensuring that these special places remain safe and secure for our wildlife - which is their primary purpose.

We recognise that many people like to enjoy our reserves with their dogs, but in certain areas, at certain times of year, we need to ask dog owners to follow certain rules to ensure that wildlife isn’t disturbed or frightened – or potentially, in some cases, injured or killed.

As part of that, we have created the canine code, specifically for those that want to enjoy our reserves whilst exercising their dogs.

Dog walking FAQ

If you would like to walk your dog on the sites we manage, please read the information below before you go. 

General guidance

We expect all visitors to our reserves to follow the Countryside Code.

This is a standard set of national guidelines for members of the public, to ensure respect and enjoyment in the countryside. We ask all dog owners visiting our reserves to make themselves particularly aware of the sections that relate to dogs namely: 

  • By law, you must control your dog so that it does not disturb or scare farm animals or wildlife
  • Farmers are, by law, entitled to destroy a dog that injures or worries their animals
  • Always clean up after your dog and get rid of the mess responsibly. Find out why this is so important below.

We also ask dog owners to:

  • Please look out for and follow signs relating to dog walking
  • Please do keep to the path and don’t allow your dog in the undergrowth or water as this disturbs the habitat and  wildlife
  • We also would point out that we do not allow commercial dog walkers to use our reserves

*Registered assistance dogs are welcome on all trails and in hides but not in ‘Red zones’ (see traffic light system below)

Our traffic light system

Certain reserve habitats, such as our Catcott and Westhay Reserves are very fragile, especially at certain times of year, for example, breeding season and when overwintering birds are visiting.  These reserves also are home to a small number of very rare species of wading birds.  

The open, flat nature of the land and the temptation of water make it particularly easy for dogs to explore the water and trample reedbeds etc.  The impact of disturbance in these places can, not only have short term consequences, but also impact on numbers in the following year and beyond.  Therefore in these special places, and similarly fragile SWT reserves across the county, we have implemented a ‘traffic light’ system that must be followed by those bringing dogs onto these reserves. Please look out for the signs.

Green:  Dogs allowed but please do follow the Countryside Code (see above)

Amber:  Dogs allowed but only on leads

Red:  Dogs not allowed at any time

Dog poo

What to do about your dog’s poo when walking in the countryside can be confusing for owners. There are no dog, or litter bins on our reserve sites, due to the high cost of their upkeep, so we ask people to take their dog waste away with them.

Pick it up for people & wildlife

Our nature reserves are used by all kinds of different people including children, wheelchair users and volunteers, who are often working to improve wildlife in areas on and near the footpaths. Imagine a carer having to put a wheelchair covered in poo into their vehicle, a mum with a soiled pushchair, a teacher having to clean children’s shoes before going back to school, or a volunteer strimming through grass in the same place.

Our reserves are also home to a wide range of species that are also negatively impacted by the carelessness of a few.

Why can't I just 'stick & flick' it, or bury it?

Wildflowers and plants need low nutrient soil to thrive. Soils enriched with dog faeces encourage the growth of coarser plants such as nettles and thistles, which compete with and outgrow many wildflowers.

Toxic pathogens are also released from dog faeces which can cause serious diseases in humans such as Canine Toxocariasis, which can lead to blindness. Although it may seem off the beaten track to you, our volunteers and reserve staff will most likely have work there at some point and we want to keep them safe. Dog poo also takes some time to biodegrade and the unsightly mess is around long after their visit for others to experience.

Should I use biodegradable poo bags?

Biodegradable poo bags do not stop the risk to members of the public, volunteers or staff working on the reserves. Biodegradable poo bags and dog poo itself will also not compost unless in the right conditions and when using machinery, it will still get churned up and cause a health risk.

They also will still affect the soil and the balance of the fragile acid mire on Westhay.

Pick it up for livestock

We have livestock grazing on some of our reserves at certain times of the year and dog poo can cause serious illness in domestic livestock too. Neosporosis can cause abortion in cattle and Sarcocystosis can cause neurological disease and death in sheep.

Dogs with cattle

Please be aware of grazing horses and cattle. If dogs are allowed in the area, please ensure the following:

  • To take care, and keep your distance from the animals
  • Avoid yourself and/or your dog getting between animals and their young
  • Please keep your dog on a short lead or at your side
  • If ponies or cows charge towards you, let your dog off the lead. It’s usually the dog they see as a threat so it’s safer to let your dog off the lead than try to stay together and potentially endanger yourself.
  • Please close gates behind you.