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Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 108:


Page 49, line 23, leave out ("other than a dog").

The noble Baroness said: If Amendment No. 108 is passed dogs will not be permitted on access land. Should the right of access for walkers also be a right of access for dogs? I do not believe that at any stage during the introduction of the Bill it was intended to give a right of access to dogs.

I should first declare an interest as a dog owner. Customarily, dogs have long been taken on public roads and other public rights of way across access land and no one would want to interfere with that arrangement. However, why should dogs, like their owners, be able to wonder off rights of way on to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land?

In considering what rights should be extended to dogs on open country, off roads and other rights of way which cross open country, it is important to consider the damage that they can do to other interests in terms of worrying livestock which can lead to the deaths of ewes and lambs and cause ewes to abort. It can also lead to different flocks being mixed up, especially the hefty flocks on unenclosed hillsides.

Furthermore, game and wildlife are disturbed. Without exception, those involved in managing wild game regard the presence of dogs as a major problem. They can disturb birds in their nests or attack them. When the nests are abandoned, even temporarily, eggs or chicks may die from exposure or be at risk from predation by other animals.

Animal health must be considered. Dog faeces can harbour parasites and pathogens which can affect livestock. As regards human health, dog faeces can pose a risk to walkers, especially to children, from parasites such as toxocara. The loss of sheep, especially from livestock wandering alone, amounts to

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many thousands of pounds each year. NFU figures for 1999 showed an 8 per cent increase in the livestock worrying taking place, at a cost of some £2 million to farmers. And that is without the right to roam.

The problem is widespread but it is felt particularly close to towns and villages. Far too many people recognise that even the friendliest, best behaved dog can run amok among livestock. People often believe that when a dog chases sheep it is just playing, but I can assure the Committee that sheep do not view it in that way. Unfortunately, they abort and there can be other repercussions on unborn lambs. The presence of dogs on access land is likely to exacerbate any problems relating to the behaviour of the users and to give rise to further new problems, including the disturbance of livestock and wildlife. Again I mention my visit to the RSPB centre Minsmere yesterday. No dogs are allowed on their land. It was one of the matters as to which they particularly highlighted their worries. They were worried about dogs disturbing ground nesting birds and also birds resting on grassland.

A total ban would be important not only to protect the game birds, which provide an important base for the economy in some areas, but also to protect bird populations on land which is often designated as SSSIs, if not also as of international importance for its bird populations.

A requirement that dogs should be on leads on such land will not be enough to safeguard these bird populations. I do not know if the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, is in her place but perhaps she would like to contribute to this debate.

Considering the problems caused by dogs and the range of organisation from which these problems are reported, it seems logical to reach the conclusion that there should be a total ban. It is also widely accepted that this would solve many of the disturbance issues associated with livestock. Losses by farmers are on the increase. As I have already said, there does not appear to be a real case for granting dogs the right of access.

I have quoted the NFU figures. In the debate in the other place, Mr Nicholas Soames said in Standing Committee at col. 264 on 11th April that he had not heard from any representative body who wanted dogs to have access to access land. Nor, indeed, have I. Maybe other noble Lords have.

The National Gamekeepers' Organisation strongly opposes the suggestion that dogs be allowed on access land at any time. I suspect that other noble Lords will speak to that.

In its submission, English Nature welcomes the proposal that dogs should be kept on leads from February to July inclusive. But it is aware that there are some instances where this will not be sufficient to safeguard the wildlife interest, particularly on some highly sensitive areas on moorland and heath. It wonders whether, on these particular sites, the provisions for exclusion and restrictions for nature conservation reasons under Clause 24 will be sufficient. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that.

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It is difficult to know what to do. This first amendment in the series of amendments is the mainstay of the "No dogs on access land" proposals. It is to that that I have spoken. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of the Committee (Lord Brougham and Vaux): I must inform the Committee that if Amendment No. 108 is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 109.

Lord Whitty: In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, it may be helpful if I briefly set out the Government's view on this group and the three other groups of amendments which deal with dogs.

I say at the outset that I am not attracted by the blanket ban proposed in the amendment, or indeed by any other amendment which has so far been tabled, except, of course, for the Government's own amendment which comes in the next group.

The Government do, however, recognise that they may have to go further than that amendment in view of the widespread concern to which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred. Therefore it is the intention of the Government to look at ways in which we can deal with the impact of dogs on sheep, game birds, ground nesting birds and other wildlife.

The Government believe that a more targeted approach than the approach proposed for the restriction of dogs may well be the right one and it is therefore intended that the Government will come forward at Report stage, taking account of this debate, with a package of further and stronger controls. I hope that that will help the debate.

Earl Peel: I am grateful to the Minister for his response which helps to concentrate the mind and does not delay the debate for too long. It is all very well to talk about dogs on leads which are under control. Recently a test was carried out in the Peak District and it was found that, despite an active campaign in the park to encourage dog owners on access land to keep their animals under control, unfortunately the majority (60 per cent) let them off the lead.

I do not repeat the observations of my noble friend. The Minister understands only too well the economic damage caused by dogs, including damage to wildlife. I hope that the Minister will take that important point into account. Even if on the face of the Bill there are restrictions on dogs, there is a real danger that people will ignore them. We return inevitably to sanctions in relation to dogs with which we shall deal at a later stage. I firmly believe that unless there are criminal sanctions on people who ignore the regulations the whole exercise will be a waste of time.

My noble friend's amendment would ban dogs from access areas. However, I draw to the attention of the Committee that paragraph 6(1) of Schedule 2 contains powers of derogation. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, has told me that there are a number of areas where traditionally dogs have been allowed access. This derogation will allow those areas

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to continue to grant access to dogs if it is thought appropriate to do so. There is an opt-out under this amendment to which I hope the Government will give serious consideration. My main point, however, is that unless there are proper sanctions people will not adhere to the regulations on dogs and all of the difficulties identified in previous debates on the Bill will be manifested to a far greater extent. More than anything else, dogs concern those who live and work on and manage this land. I hope that the Minister will take that into account.

The Duke of Montrose: Given the very helpful approach that the Minister appears to adopt to this subject, I would have liked to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Byford. I spoke earlier to Amendment No. 52 in relation to disturbance to sheep and I shall not repeat that. However, there was one element at the end about disturbance to fattened lambs. I believe that that point is relevant here. Disturbance by people is one matter; disturbance caused by a dog is of much greater importance. I have with me a copy of a report published by the Danish Ministry of Energy and Environment in 1998 on research into the effect of disturbance on roe-deer. That report probably has some relevance to disturbance of wildlife as a whole.

The two factors which govern the amount of access that can be tolerated by wildlife are obvious: the density of the cover and the public voluntarily restricting their access to known footpaths. Those two elements are in some ways the opposite of what we are considering in this Bill. The situation with which the amendment is concerned is access to areas where there is very little cover and the possibility that people wander at will. In the absence of our own relevant research, the Danish study gives an indication of the issues that we should address. That research was carried out on a 200-hectare wood visited by 30,000 people a year. Six roe-deer were fitted with heart monitors and miniature radio transmitters. It was found that when the disturbance was caused by a visitor on a known roadway a small increase in the pulse rate occurred. When the disturbance resulted in flight the increase in heartbeat was the same as when the deer were disturbed by a pedestrian who was not following a pathway. It was about 15 times higher than in an encounter that did not result in flight.

The distance the animal travelled after being disturbed was dependent on the season and the thickness of the cover. Having gained cover after the disturbance, the animal would rest for a while and finally resume grazing. The average duration that that would take would be one hour and 22 minutes, during which time no food was consumed. The additional energy consumption of the animal during that effort was reckoned to require it to eat an extra 0.6 kilograms of food. That represented an addition of 18 per cent of its normal daily intake. If merely body reserves were being considered, it could take it some time to make up what it had lost.

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The Ramblers' Association in their submissions say that in countries where there is greater access to the countryside than in Britain there is no evidence of correspondingly greater damage to wildlife and to the environment. That assessment is dependent on the levels of wildlife in those countries before the assessment was taken. Most other countries in Europe would be most jealous of the level of wildlife in the areas we are talking about now.

Given that those are findings which could be observed in a fairly busy forest, there must be some correspondence with what shepherds have observed with their sheep and the lack of thriving in lambs if they are more regularly disturbed.


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