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Presentment: Commercial Dog Walking

Our Vice Chair, Gale Gould made this Presentment at this month’s Verderers Court, clarifying our position about Professional Dog Walkers and Commercial Exploitation of the Forest.

The Verderers may or may not know that last week the Lymington Times published a correction to their previous article about Commercial Dog Walking Charter, which incorrectly reported the position of the Friends of the New Forest (New Forest Association).

For the avoidance of doubt the views of the Friends of the New Forest are similar to those that have been expressed by the Verderers.

Friends of the New Forest does not support the charter because it does not effectively regulate a commercial activity that is taking place on the Forest.

Failing to take early control of activities that have a serious detrimental effect on the Forest results in it being very difficult to control them in the future.

Commercial dog walkers should be required to obtain permission. This would ensure reasonable controls can be put in place including, for example, restricting to four the number of dogs that an individual can walk.

Dogs should be on leads during the bird nesting season, which would bring the Forest in line with the ‘Countryside and Rights of Way Act’, as observed in many other national parks.

It is our view that all commercial activity carried out on the New Forest should be regulated and require consent on a personal and individual basis. This enables the recording and registration of the person to whom consent is given, so that scale, location and the effects of the activity may be monitored. Consent would be accompanied by conditions (for dog walking this might include the things in this charter, such as numbers of dogs on one lead and when or where dogs should be on a lead).

In contrast, simply issuing a code of behaviour in the form of a Charter for a commercial activity, with no regulation, tacitly accepts the activity as being one that has a general, blanket approval with no means to monitor numbers or have any information about those carrying it out.  It would also serve as an unintentional precedent.

In his subsequent Presentment on the subject of stallions and geldings, Dr Tony Hockley, Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, added on the spot support for our Presentment.

The Lymington Times correction printed in their 12th April 2019 issue: “it was incorrectly stated that Hampshire Police, Natural England, Friends of the New Forest and the RSPB had declared their support for a professional dog walking charter.”  The reporter at fault did offer a personal apology to our vice chair at the Verderers Court.

The Forestry Commission does administer a permission system for commercial and events use of the Forest, however it is not comprehensive and does not currently include licensing or permission for commercial dog walkers.

We and other organizations, including the RSPB, Commoners Defence Association, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and the Verderers have had input into both the Draft Professional Dog Walkers Charter and the generic Dog Walkers Code through the National Park Authority’s Dog Forum.  Friends of the New Forest continue to maintain that the commercial exploitation of the Forest element must be addressed for the guidance to have any useful value.  All commercial exploitation of the Forest should also be addressed more fully under any future Recreation Management Strategy.

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Announcements & Decisions Verderers Court 17th April 2019

This month’s announcements include warnings about dumping garden waste on the Forest as a hazard to the livestock, foals on Forest roads, out of control dogs, pleas to not feed livestock, the HLS AGM and Open Evening, and the appointment of the DEFRA Verderer.

Garden Waste

We are approaching the time of year when we will all be cutting our lawns and tidying our gardens after the winter. Please may we remind residents that lawn mowings are very dangerous to ponies and donkeys and they must not be left where the animals can get to them. Tipping your grass cuttings over the fence or emptying a bag on the Open Forest may be a cheap and easy way of disposing of your garden waste, but it can result in a very sick or dead pony.

Mown grass left in a heap heats up and when eaten, the resulting gasses that accumulate in the stomach of a pony or donkey can result in a very painful death for the unfortunate animal. Many garden plants and shrubs are toxic and can also cause illness or the death of any animal which eats them. Please dispose of your garden waste responsibly. Compost it on your property or take it to the tip. Please remember if you live in an area accessible to Forest stock and your garden waste is collected by NFDC always keep the waste sacks inside your boundary for collection.

Foals On The Forest’s Roads

The time is approaching when foals will soon be born on the Forest. Like all young things, foals love to play. However, they have no road sense and will run across the road without warning, so we would like to remind drivers to please take extra care in the Forest.

Please Don’t Feed The Animals

We constantly have to remind people not to hand feed the Forest ponies and donkeys. The Forestry Commission puts up signs and the Ranger teams visit picnic sites and busy car parks talking to people and explaining why it is so important that people don’t feed the animals.

Unfortunately, however, despite all our efforts some people ignore our requests and as a result, every year we have to order ponies and donkeys off the Forest because they have become too demanding in trying to persuade people to feed them. This is not fair on the animals which face a very uncertain future and it is not fair on their owners who want their animals to be out on the Forest. Please DON’T feed the animals.

Out Of Control Dogs

Another commoner’s animal has been attacked by a dog.

A donkey was found at the weekend on the Northern Commons with extremely serious injuries to her muzzle, face and neck. The vet who was called to treat the animal confirmed the injuries were definitely been caused by a large dog. The donkey’s owner is now incurring costly veterinary fees and the animal is badly traumatised, in a lot of pain and struggling to eat. It is quite possible that the donkey will not survive.

The New Forest is a wonderful place to take a dog for a walk but it is irresponsible and unfair to allow a dog to inflict injury on another animal. Every year several Forest animals are either badly injured or die as a result of dog attacks. Anyone who cannot be certain of keeping a dog in their charge under proper control, should not let it off the lead.

Defra’s Appointed Verderer

I am sorry to have to report that Hallam Mills, who has served the Court as Defra’s appointed Verderer for the past six years, has decided not to seek appointment for a further three years.

Hallam has made a valuable contribution to the running of the Verderers’ Court and we will miss his knowledge and wise counsel.

As a result of Hallam deciding to step down in July, Defra is seeking his replacement. An advertisement will appear shortly in the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times and a copy of the advert will also be available on our website.

Applicants for this unpaid position should have a good knowledge of animal welfare and in addition, ideally both a working knowledge of livestock and experience of the New Forest’s unique system of depasturing stock. In addition, they should have an understanding of the pressures arising from the need to balance the interests of agriculture, conservation, and recreation in the Forest.

Please note that whilst we are happy to answer general queries about the duties of a Verderer, Defra is handling the actual appointment process. Details of how to apply will be contained in the advertisement. Completed applications must be returned to Defra by 31st May 2019.

HLS 2019 Celebration Evening

Please join us on Wednesday 22nd May from 6pm at Minstead Village Hall for an evening celebrating the work taking place to protect and enhance the internationally important habitats of the New Forest. It will be a great opportunity to look back at the achievements of the HLS scheme over the last 9 years. It is also an opportunity to thank our volunteers who have contributed so much of their time to help deliver the scheme’s objectives. The Verderers HLS Scheme is due to expire at the end of February 2020. A great deal of effort is going into trying to secure a future scheme to provide funding for commoning and other environmental support for the Forest. There has been extensive contact with politicians, Defra officials and Natural England. However it is too soon to predict with any certainty what the outcome of those discussions will be.

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Verderers View: Dog Attacks / Presentments

At September’s Verderers Court, in his Announcements and Decisions, the Official Verderer, Dominic May, spoke of a recent successfully prosecuted dog attack, and affirmed the rules for length and relevance of Presentments to the Court.

Dog Attack

On April 21st, two bull mastiff dogs, owned by a visitor to Holland’s Wood Campsite, chased and viciously attacked a Shetland pony.  The pony was chased so far from the campsite that she was not found until the next day.  At first it was hoped she could be saved, but due to the severity of the injuries inflicted by the dogs, a vet recommended that she should be destroyed.

The owner of the dogs, Thomas Allen from Slough, was successfully prosecuted and has been fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £884 compensation to the pony’s owner and costs of £250.  

Northern end of Hollands Wood camp site, New Forest - geograph.org.uk - 43408
Northern end of
Hollands Wood camp site, New Forest.

We are very grateful to the staff at the campsite, to Forestry Commission Keeper Jonathan Cook, and to the police, for their actions and evidence which resulted in this successful prosecution.

We also thank the campers and staff at Holland’s Wood for their brave efforts in trying to drive off the dogs.   In doing so they undoubtedly risked being seriously injured themselves.

One of the dogs suffered a broken nose as a result of being kicked during the incident.

This successful prosecution sends a clear message to all dog owners that they must keep their animals under close control at all times when in the Forest.

Presentments

We have recently suffered some irrelevant or over-long presentments from the public, so please may I remind the Court of our rules.

Presentments must be relevant, and should only address matters that are the responsibility of the Verderers or the Forestry Commission as set out in the various New Forest Acts and Forestry Acts, namely Conservation, Landscape, Governance, Management and Animal Health.

Secondly, presentments must be brief: no longer than five minutes. 

Thirdly, presentments must be moderately phrased and free of any express or implied abuse.

As chairman of the Court, I will stop any presentment from the public which is not relevant, brief or moderate.

Thank you.

Dominic May
Official Verderer
21st September 2016

— used with permission with our thanks.

This is part of the NFA’s initiative to publicise good works on the Forest.  Announcements and Decisions by the Verderers ordinarily do not enter the public record until the minutes of the whole Court, including the in camera sessions, are approved at the subsequent month’s sitting, unless directly reported by the local papers.

Here is the dog attack as covered by the Daily Echo.

Many visitors to the Forest do not take account of both the unpredictability of the Forest’s livestock, nor their own dogs facing their novelty.  Even though you are your dogs are allowed off lead, that does not make it always appropriate.  All are requested to have dogs under “close control” which may include use of the lead. The FC Byelaws state: “No person shall in or on the lands of the Commissioners:-…(xiv) permit a dog for which he is responsible to disturb, worry or chase any bird or animal or, on being requested by an officer of the Commissioners, fail to keep the dog on a leash;”.

Here is the National Park’s page on the New Forest Dog Walking Code.

It should be noted that an NFA representative swiftly tested the five minute limit on Presentments, and was duly cut short, as was one other presentment at Wednesday’s Court.