Heath dog walkers need to be responsible
PUBLISHED: 19:18 18 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:47 11 May 2010
I AM pleased to see that my recent comments on the return of sheep to Therfield Heath and the need for dog owners to keep their dogs under proper control has brought a response. While the heath is a public place, the land is owned by a charitable trust wh
I AM pleased to see that my recent comments on the return of sheep to Therfield Heath and the need for dog owners to keep their dogs under proper control has brought a response.
While the heath is a public place, the land is owned by a charitable trust whose remit is to manage the land for public access and public recreation.
The charity receives no public funding, its main source of income is from the rent paid by Royston Golf Club, The Heath Sports Club and King's Ride Stables. Most recreational users of the heath - including dog walkers - make no financial contribution.
As most people will be aware, the heath is a nationally important chalk downland with much of it a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
It exists because it has been grazed by sheep for many years. Without grazing it would rapidly revert to coarse grass and scrub, unsuitable for dogs and public enjoyment.
Sheep grazing is fundamental to maintaining the condition of the heath, encouraging a rich diversity of flora and insects, particularly butterflies and moths. The flock on the heath was purchased with the support of Natural England - the successor body to English Nature - specifically to graze the heath.
Grazing over the last few years has begun to re-establish a high quality heath downlands and I trust the sheep will be soon be back grazing again.
The heath grassland provides good grazing and the sheep are rotated around the various compartments to limit over-grazing and to ensure as much as possible of the heath is grazed.
Sheep, in spite of their reputation, are not stupid and the flock has been familiarised with electric fences and will remain within the fenced zone if they are not disturbed.
Although the fence may look flimsy, it is enough to keep the sheep inside even if the power is off, as they don't know that and don't want to find out.
When they are found wandering the golf course, it is usually because they have been panicked by something, often a dog, and have run over the fence in order to escape.
If they are seen outside the fenced area then this should be immediately reported, either to the golf club or Heath Sports Club, who will contact the shepherd.
Notices are usually put up, but these tend to be vandalised or stolen.
Responsible dog walkers ensure that when they are anywhere near the area where there are sheep, their dogs are on a leash.
The law gives those responsible for grazing sheep the right to take whatever action is necessary to control any dog not under proper control and worrying sheep, including the right to shoot the dog.
I think it unlikely that we'll see dogs shot on the heath, but sheep were worried and killed by dogs last year.
The Right to Roam Act of 2002, grants people the right to roam over most open land. However, it specifically excludes the right to roam over golf courses which are in open access land and also, between dawn and midday, on gallops used by racehorses under training.
So the public does not have free access to all of the heath, although with common sense and courtesy to other users, any responsible dog owner can exercise their dogs anywhere on the heath.
I trust all dog walkers will act responsibly and enjoy the heath, while taking care that their dogs do not cause problems for the sheep or interfere with other people's enjoyment.
The heath is large enough for everybody to enjoy.
Town Council Representative, Therfield Heath Conservation Joint Advisory Committee