Published: 23 September 2014
“It’s only natural….. Isn’t it?” a remark commonly heard at Berry Head NNR. However, dog faeces are an increasing threat to the rare and unique habitat at Berry Head National Nature Reserve.
Berry Head is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) containing nationally and internationally important species, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a National Nature Reserve and an important open space for members of the public to enjoy.
Berry Head’s SSSI status is partially due to the low nutrient meadow grasslands that cover the headland. This once common land type now only covers about 0.2% of the UK and is rare habitat, home for rare plants that thrive on this low nutrient soil.
Numerous diverse user groups including dog walkers are welcome to enjoy the open space; spectacular views; space away from roads and traffic in order to let their dogs get exercise and socialise.
Inevitably on their walk there comes a time that a dog does its ‘business’. The majority, being responsible dog walkers, come prepared and clear up after their animals, some even clear up after others! Unfortunately there are dog walkers that don’t.
Whilst dog faeces left on the ground is unsightly, it can take many months to break down. It also contains harmful bacteria e.g. E.coli; Cryptosporidium; Salmonella together with other serious parasites such as hookworm; ringworm; tapeworm and toxocariasis. It has been estimated that a single gram of faeces can contain 23 million bacteria. These contaminants can even end up within our own water supply.
The Toxocara canis worm can lay 1 million eggs in a single faeces. These eggs can lay dormant in the soil for years and when ingested can cause headaches; nausea; asthma and in some cases seizures, fits and blindness, particularly in children.
We undertook a survey on the footpaths of Berry Head to gauge the amount of dog faeces left annually. The resulting data showed that there is approximately 20 Tonnes per year of dog faeces left uncollected on the paths alone!
Noel Hughes, Countryside Officer for the site explains “With the exception of climate change, increased eutrophication due to dog fouling could present one of the biggest threats to our low nutrient meadow grasslands if left unchecked. It is these species rich grasslands that Berry Head is renowned for across the UK, if not Europe. And to be amongst these beautiful grasslands is what the vast majority of our visitors come here for, whether directly for the flowers, indirectly for birdlife or just to take in the fresh air and scenery. So it is imperative that we take this threat seriously and as such have to directly address the inaction of irresponsible dog owners. So I ask all dog owners to keep an eye out and if you see a dog fouling bring it to the attention of the owner so they can do the good deed (as the majority of us do). However if they refuse please see myself or the reserve team and we will follow it up. Berry Head National Nature Reserve is a place for all to enjoy help us keep it that way.”