Last weekend, we stirred up a hornets’ nest with two posts (here and here) about out-of-control dogs in the reserve. There have been so many comments, messages and mails from park-goers and dog owners, all of them pertinent, that we feel we should summarise the situation.
Firstly, everybody thinks that out-of-control dogs are a big problem in the reserve. So many people had stories to tell about being frightened by unwanted approaches from off-leash dogs or from aggressive dogs that were out of sight and earshot of their owners. We learned, to our horror, that the reserve has long had a local reputation as a place where people walk dangerous dogs and there are some people who will not visit the park with either their children or their dogs because of it.
…there are some people who will not visit the park with either their children or their dogs…
Hardly anybody thinks that all dogs in the reserve should be on the lead all the time but most people think that there should be rules, a protocol, some kind of a code of conduct, posted at the entrances to the reserve, and some kind of procedure in place to enforce those rules.
Most people, too, seem to be open to the idea that there could be fields or areas where dogs are leashed and other fields or areas where they can run off-lead. In the past, FoSCP has proposed this to the Countryside Team as a way to protect certain species or to encourage others. For instance, skylarks have been seen in the reserve, in Sleepers Field, and if we were to ask dog owners walking there to keep their dogs on-lead during the spring, it might give this increasingly threatened, red-listed species the chance to nest.
Skylark and water vole: two of our red-listed UK BAP priority species
Nobody seems to be happy about professional dog-walkers letting their charges run off-lead in the reserve. Everybody feels that, in such large groups, the individual dogs are not sufficiently under control, and that the dog-walker cannot possibly clean up after all of them properly. Some commenters found packs of six or eight dogs quite frightening.
There were many responses about the reserve itself. There are people who walk there daily, with or without dogs, and who messaged us to say that they feel that their mental health depends on it, using words like essential and God-send.
…green spaces where people can walk and play…
There is a feeling that the reserve is crowded, that Trowbridge doesn’t have enough natural green spaces where people can walk and play. The pandemic lockdowns have taught us how important it is to be outside in beautiful places like the reserve. Research is showing us that we can improve our health and reduce health service costs by spending time outside in green places. Increasing numbers of medical providers are prescribing outdoor activities in place of drugs.
We can and will try to implement some of your suggestions in the reserve but the pressure on Wiltshire Council or the government to provide more open greenspaces like Southwick Country Park must come from you.
Header Image by Simon Knight
If Southwick Court fields are built upon there will be even fewer places to walk or to exercise our dogs.
Do changes to the way the park is used or managed have to go to public consultation first because of the covenant on the deeds?
I don’t know, Simon. That’s the sort of legal question best addressed to Wiltshire Council. But let’s assume that any major changes SHOULD be referred to the public – and that if the public doesn’t like proposed changes, it will stand up and say so.
Southwick Country Park I’m pleased you’re addressing this. It’s a beautiful park and I’ve visited for years but it’s definitely got that reputation that you mention. It’s not somewhere I can relax with my dogs for reasons you’ve stated about out of control dogs running miles from owners etc.
We were shocked to realise how bad the park’s reputation is. Twenty years ago and more, before it was developed as a country park, there were rumours of dog fights being held here; perhaps its present reputation is a holdover from those criminal times.
Southwick Country Park :I think people have just become wary of dogs off lead that aren’t controlled. It is mentioned fairly frequently on Spotted pages as somewhere that people feel cautious about. Dogs off lead is one thing, but when the owners aren’t nearby, or aren’t bothered about calling their dogs back etc, then it becomes a place to avoid for many.
I’ve always been impressed with how many bins there are in the park. I just wish dog owners would use them!! 💩 There was so much along the path yesterday, it’s revolting!
Time for our summer dog poop campaign!
These posts certainly have stirred up a hornets nest. It seems to me that people mostly stop to comment on such posts with negative feedback. Please also consider the positive feedback daily park users are giving. I feel very sad that there are such bad comments about dogs in the park.
Georgia Hoad: I agree. I’ve used the park for many years, in fact before the paths etc were all put in. I’ve never really encountered a problem. I keep my dogs under control and pop them on a lead if I feel it’s necessary and think the vast majority do the same.