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Rules and Regulations in our Nature Reserves

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Dogs on lead season

From 1 March to 31 July, a dogs on lead season is in effect for the heathland areas and nature reserves in the BCP area. Dog owners must take steps to limit any disturbance to protected wildlife in these areas.

Residents and visitors using their open access rights must keep their dogs on short leads of no more than two metres during this time, and all year round if they are walking close to livestock.

These areas include:

  • Canford Heath
  • Hengistbury Head
  • Turbary Common
  • Corfe Hills Heathland
  • Ham Common
  • Talbot Heath
  • Bourne Valley.

Spring and summer on our heathlands and open spaces is an incredibly special time of the year. Species from as far away as Africa migrate to our heaths to breed and nests are under construction. Rare reptiles also emerge, to bask in the sun and hunt, with invertebrate life utilising the bounty of unique flora as it begins to bloom. By keeping your dog on its lead, you can help protect our precious wildlife at this critical time.

Reasons for the dogs on lead rule

Heathland wardens have been ignored and sometimes verbally abused when requesting that members of the public put their dog on a lead while walking in our nature reserves. We've provided the below to explain why the rule is important for protecting wildlife.

The rule to keep dogs on a lead in these areas during nesting season applies to all walkers regardless of the dog’s behaviour, or whether the dog stays close to the path or their owner. Dogs can be seen as predators by many species that might be nesting or gathering near the path, and a dog off the leash can disrupt their nests and behaviour. Regardless of the training of an individual dog, keeping the dog on a leash encourages the same behaviour from other walkers whose dogs may not be as well disciplined.

Unlike dogs, cows are generally seen as docile and not as predators by smaller wildlife in the area. Therefore, cows are free to roam in the area while dogs must remain on a leash. Cows in these areas help to maintain diversity of plants and open patches around our sites through browsing, ultimately creating a space for the heathland ecosystem to flourish.

We appreciate that dog owners want to be able to take more active dogs to an area where they can roam free and let of some steam. However, there are many other places where dogs can be let off the leash in the BCP area. The priority for these reserves - which have been designated as Special Sites of Scientific Interest for many years - is to preserve and encourage internationally and legally protected wildlife.

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