Dog owners vow to fight Waterhall dog controls

Posted On 27 Apr 2022 at 12:59 pm

Stock image of dogs playing. Picture by Peter Wadsworth on flickr


Dog walkers are preparing to fight a proposed ban on letting their pets run free on a new council nature reserve.

Councillors last month voted to designate the former Waterhall golf course and adjoining land as an official nature reserve.

Brighton and Hove City Council’s environment, transport and sustainability committee also agreed to allow the public access to the land – but to pursue an order requiring dogs to be kept on a short lead at all time.

Designating land as open access means dogs must be kept on a lead in summer, but as cattle are also being introduced onto the land, councillors voted to pursue a dog control zone.

Brighton Dogwatch, which shares lost dog appeals and other dog-related information to thousands of local dog owners on Facebook, is now calling on the council to pause that decision.

It’s produced a report which quotes local dog owners and proposes ways Waterhall can be shared using fenced-off zones where dogs can be let off the lead.

It says the hundreds of dogs which use the site – which is says is estimated by the council as a thousand a day – will put pressure on other open areas if they have to go elsewhere.

It is also calling for more dog poo bins on the site, and for car parking at Stanmer Park to be reviewed as it says many dog walkers have been displaced from there by high parking charges.

It says: “We hope we can find a way forward where the land can be shared and enjoyed whilst also improving the wildlife and area that Waterhall offers.

“We live in an area where many households have dogs. We’ve seen just how important these dogs are for physical and mental health. We also have a large community that supports environmental progress and rewilding projects.

“These communities are not separate they overlap. We should find a way for all communities to go forward and create a win-win.”

The report also anonymously quotes several dog owners. One said: “It’s a lovely safe area to walk dogs off lead and sadly these areas are getting less and less.

“We walk our rescue up there and he loves the freedom and we love the fact it’s a large area.”

Another said: “So many people enjoy the land with their dogs and yet this happens with ease and largely without issue as it is such a vast area.

“Should all of these people be forced elsewhere, parking, access areas, and the places themselves will become so busy that people and dogs will suffer.”

During last month’s committee meeting on Tuesday, March 14, councillors from all three parties supported measures to control dogs on the site.

Green councillor Jamie Lloyd said: “We have seen that massive quantity of dogs is detrimental to wildlife. I think we’re all in agreement with that.

“But people wandering around the site isn’t.”

Labour councillor Teresa Fowler said: “We are pleased to declare the area a nature reserve and ask dog owners to keep their dogs on a lead in order to protect grazing wildlife and various wildlife which we are trying to nurture.

“I have a dog which I do mainly keep on a lead and she is not upset by this.

“I have had many complaints from residents who are upset by lots of dogs out of control off leads especially if you have a fearful child or a nervous dog.”

In a report which went before the committee, the council’s conservation manager David Larkin said: “Monitoring of the adjacent land at Waterhall has shown a decline in target species (dormice and adders) with increasing dog numbers since the golf course ceased operation

“Increased amounts of dog excrement have been reported spoiling the enjoyment of the site for other users.

“A recent study – nutrient fertilization by dogs in peri-urban ecosystems – has shown that dog excrement is particularly damaging to nutrient poor species rich grassland such as at Waterhall.

“Many groups of large numbers of dogs discourages individual dog walkers from using the site as they feel their individual dogs are threatened by the ‘pack mentality’ of the groups of dogs.

“The presence of dogs causes stress to livestock as dogs are perceived as predators. The potential for dog attacks on the livestock increases with the number of dogs being walked off-lead on the site.”

He added: “There are still plenty of opportunities to walk dogs off lead in the area less than a mile from Waterhall. Three Cornered Copse, Coney Hill Woodland and Waterhall and Braypool Recreation Grounds are unrestricted and Green Ridge only has restrictions when it is being grazed.”

  1. Kayla Reply

    I fully support the need for dogs to be restricted to leads on this nature reserve. There ar eplenty of outdoor spaces for dogs to roam free in Brighton and Hove and very little space where wildlife is prioritised. I have witnessed dog walkers with packs of 15 dogs at the site where little control is implemented. The sheer number of the dogs per person also makes it impossible to monitor and remove all dog faeces on walks.

    • btn Reply

      NIMBY for dogs! Where are these other outdoor spaces locally? It’s very easy to say, “not here” but much harder to say where else. The council is saying sport pitches. Really not a good idea! Do you have any ideas where 1,000 dogs a day can walk safely off-lead for an hour or more locally? The council sites are all too small and have other risks (like football being played on them and/or busy roads nearby)

      15 dogs to one person isn’t reasonable. But the answer to that is enforcement rather than banning all dogs! If a cyclist runs a red light, you don’t ban all cyclists. Why ban all dog walkers because of a minority?

      Making Waterhall a priority for wildlife and calm sounds good. But the council has already done that at Stanmer and Waterhall got a lot busier. Do that again and will be chaos at other sites.

      Some dog walkers will avoid this altogether and drive further out into the downs. They will quite legally walk there. But there is much more wildlife there and these sites are far more important ecologically than Waterhall. So prioritising Waterhall will come at a high cost for safety, CO2 and wildlife elsewhere. Is it worth it? I think not.

      Waterhall has a huge number of dogs visiting at the moment. Is it still a lovely area? Is wildlife still thriving? Yes, and yes.

  2. Steve Reply

    Dogmaggedon! It’s all got a bit out of hand. People desperate to own a dog pay outlandish sums feeding irresponsible breeding and don’t even have the time to look after it so employ a dog walker. The pond and surrounds at Waterhall have long been a special habitat for nature and should be protected from this recent onslaught. Perhaps create more contained areas for dog walkers like the puppy park at Withdean.

    • btn Reply

      I avoid walking by the pond. However the new fence has narrowed the route that I took too much – so will now divert via the pond field! This is just another example of how the council hasn’t discussed with dog walkers as it’s an obviously bad design choice.

      Done differently, the pond could have been protected. Why not make that and some other areas no dogs (and indeed people too). Just as long as there are other viable routes and ways to make a loop. But the council didn’t ask. Didn’t consult and this site (and far more important habitats on the downs) will suffer as hundreds of dogs a day displace

      Yes, the council could provide more. The tiny puppy park couldn’t cope. But if hundreds of acres somewhere else could be opened up that would be great. But without any discussion, all the council is doing is negative.

  3. Paul Russell Reply

    Yet another Brighton Council “vanity project”, carried out without any public consultation, at great expense, and with no regard for the existing users of the site. The council seems to be engaged in a vendetta against dog owners, having already driven us out of Stanmer Park with excessive car parking costs, and now driving us out of Waterhall with draconian restrictions on off-lead dog walking. The suggested alternatives such as Three Corner Copse are a joke (small area, no parking, totally unsuitable for high energy dogs).

  4. Liz Brynin Reply

    I have walked my rescue dog at Waterhall almost daily for the past 6 years, and have been so grateful for this safe, enclosed space to exercise her without risk. I could not do this in smaller, enclosed spaces, as she is nervous of other dogs getting too close.
    Letting dogs off the lead to sniff and explore freely is also important for a dog’s health, as it gives them the opportunity to run around and get better quality exercise than just walking on a short lead. It is also more enjoyable for the owner, as you can stride out confidently and exercise properly as well.
    There are very few spaces in Brighton where dogs are safe off lead, as nearly all of them have easy access to main roads. Waterhall is hugely important for its safety.
    Brighton never stops growing. We seem to find the arguments to build over wild areas without problems (Toad’s Hole Valley is the latest) but we do not take dogs and dog owners into consideration, and yet their numbers, inevitably, are increasing as well. Owning a dog is a fundamental, British trait, part of our national psyche – and proven to bring us mental, emotional and physical benefits. We need to factor them into the equation.

  5. James Reply

    Where are all the open spaces you speak of Kayla that dogs are free to roam? Please can you list them?
    Public parks are often full with people playing sports or children playing – both of which are great to see. Often this doesn’t mix well with dogs as people get upset if they are off the lead. Removing spaces means more people are constrained to those locations and will lead to more tension and incidents.
    Waterhall isn’t well used by the general public for those activities and so lends well to walking dogs.
    I wholly agree the pond area needs protecting, however to remove all the open space seems unfair to people who enjoy the countryside with dogs.

  6. Gareth Hall Reply

    Wildlife needs protecting from dogs
    Good on brighton council for doing this I think they should go further and ban dogs all together

  7. Karl Reply

    The domestic dog has been bred from the European grey wolf, it is not a naturally evolved animal. It is an invasive species & along with the domestic cat it kills more indigenous wildlife in the UK than any other 2 species. The only time either species is completely under control, is while on a lead 2metres or less. If dog & cat owners continually refuse to respect wildlife & other users of public spaces, then they should be banned from having!! My children aren’t someone else’s problem, other people pets shouldn’t be mine!!

  8. Mark Reply

    Many studies have shown that wildlife is more fearful of humans than dogs. I observe this myself in the garden seeing birds feeding close to my dog, but flying off when I enter the garden.

  9. Hove Guy Reply

    In St Ann’s Well Gardens one dare not sit on the grass anywhere. Dog owners allow their dear pets to roam around freely off the lead, and they don’t all clear up the excrement the pets leave behind. And even if they do that, they can’t clear up dog pee. The danger is when young children are sitting or lying on the grass, as they are very vulnerable to being infected as a result. Years ago the council employed park keepers, who did a great job in preventing this happening. But now, as with cyclists, dog owners think they own all the open spaces.

  10. Steve Kershaw Reply

    Dogs don’t belong in public spaces. Parks are for people not dogs.

    • mart Burt Reply

      Some Dogs believe it or not serve the community in many ways, can be a comfort to elderly, young and especially disabled and what about the blind ?
      Are you going to victimise a dog owner use of a public space because they are blind or whatever. That’s discrimination Steve.

      Point really is should we allow dogs to roam free or be kept on a lead. I think it depends on the area concerned and if the owner has full control of their dog while it’s off the lead.
      If it’s a children’s park then my dog stays on her lead and I tend to walk as far away from the childrens part and clear up after her.
      The Dyke is a good place for my dog to roam free but she responds to my commands if required and again I clear up after her.

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