Dogs in the Countryside
Updated: Feb 17
One of the most surprising things I've learned during my PhD, is the huge amount of concern that National Park Authorities and other organisations across the UK have for dogs in the countryside. The problem is such a concern, I've actually attended several days worth of conferences and workshops over the last four years that have focused on dog in the countryside. I have also conducted some studies to help assess the impact of dogs on sites in the National Park and tested the effectiveness of some innovative interventions.
The three main issues caused by dogs in the countryside are dog fouling, disturbance to wildlife and livestock worrying. Dog fouling is not only unpleasant, but can contain parasites that can cause neosporosis in livesotkc, which can lead to fertility and birthing issues. Disturbance to wildlife can impact ground nesting bird species as well as mammals. Finally, disturbance to livestock, usually in the form of dogs chasing or attacking livestock (a.k.a. livestock worrying), can cause stress, injury and even death in livestock.
Perceptions vs. Reality
When I began working on research within the Brecon Beacons National Park, I was surprised that dogs in the countryside was percieved to be such a large problem. Landowners had issues with dogs disturbing their livestock and dog fouling was reportedly a large scale problem across the National Park. However, no research had been conducted to back this up. Farmers frequently don't report issues to the police, and dog fouling isn't measure in any capacity. Ecology research is sporadic across the National Park and generally research doesn't focus on the impact that disturance can have on species. Overall then, there was a perception that these issues were common and this was supported through anecodtal evidence. In order to find out just how much of
Y Garn Goch is the site of a bronze-age hillfort, in the Western region of the National Park. It's common land, and a handful of local farmers have grazing rights to the site. However, graziers were reluctant to place thier livestock on the site, as they were concerned with dog related issues - dog fouling being the biggest concern.
I worked with Pori Natur a Threftadaeth (PONT) and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority to investigate the impact that dogs were having on the site. To measure the amount of dog fouling on the site, I walked the paths of the site, logging every incidence of dog fouling with a GPS point. I then used this data to create the heatmap below.
Clearly, the issue was a problem across the whole site, but it was more concentrated within 200m of the car park. Myself and colleagues at PONT decided the car park would be the ideal location for an intervention to try and tackle the issue. We worked on signage and installed a dog poo wormery and compostable poo bag dispenser. The dog poo wormery provided visitors with somewhere to drop their dog poo, and the worms break down the dog poo over time into fertiliser. A sign allowed graziers to show visitors when livestock were on site by flipping the sign to "livestock grazing".
I went back to GPS log dog fouling on the site a few months after the intervention was put into place. Some of the graziers had already been impressed by the efforts and cattle were grazing on the site. I found a 95% reduction in dog fouling on the site, with the heatmap below showing a huge reduction in the spread across the site as well as the frequency. In total, from the first count whihc was just over 100 incidents, I found 5 in total.
Whilst the intervention was costly and does require maintenance, this research showcases that unusual methods can sometimes be very effective at changing behaviour. It also shows that behaviour change requires well developed and designed interventions, and in particular that structural changes that help make behaviours easier (in this case providing poo bags and a bin) are some of the most impactful.