National Park encourages responsible dog walking to help farmers and wildlife

Take the lead and keep those paws on the path! That’s the call to action to dogwalkers from the South Downs National Park Authority as ground-nesting bird and lambing season starts this March.

With dog ownership at an all-time high post-pandemic, the National Park is re-energising its “Take The Lead” campaign, which encourages responsible dog walking with simple actions, such as keeping canines on leads around livestock and bagging and binning dog poo.

The four messages for Take The Lead are: Keep dogs on a lead near livestock, bag and bin your poo, any public bin will do, stick to the path, protect ground-nesting birds by sticking to the paths, especially between 1 March and 15 September during the breeding season, do not enter military training areas when the red flags are flying.

Andy Gattiker, who leads on access for the National Park Authority, said: “Our focus at the National Park is on education and engagement when it comes to dog walking. Responsible dog walking is a great way for people to get out, get fit and experience the National Park.

"However, we also understand that having dogs off leads can potentially have a devastating impact on farmers, as well as fragile wildlife-rich habitats. The aim of our ‘Take The Lead’ campaign is to help everyone, including dog walkers, to have an enjoyable and safe experience in the National Park.”

To mark the campaign, the National Park is inviting dogwalkers to enjoy the stunning views and snap a picture of their pooch on the lead and sticking to the path in the South Downs.

The competition starts on March 15 and runs through the Easter Holidays and Discover National Parks Fortnight, finishing on 14 April. The prize for the best image will be a dog hamper full of dog treats and a “poop scoop” Dicky Bag.

To enter simply post a picture with #PawsOnThePath and #TaketheLead on Instagram or Facebook. Dr Marc Abraham OBE, or ‘Marc the Vet’ as he’s usually known, a multi-award-winning veterinary surgeon, author, broadcaster, and animal welfare campaigner, will be judging the entries.

Unfortunately there have been several reported incidents of sheep worrying in the South Downs over the past couple of years and statistics from the National Sheep Association show that 70% of UK sheep farmers have experienced a sheep worrying attack in the past 12 months. This can lead to pregnant ewes aborting their unborn lambs if scared by dogs.

One of the “myths” that often arises at the National Park’s engagement events is that dog poo enriches the soil and helps plants and animals.

Andy said: “Many of the habitats in the National Park, such as chalk grassland and heathland, have actually developed over thousands of years because of soil that is low in nutrients. This gives the amazing array of specialist species that we see today. Introducing dog poo can change this soil profile and interrupt these fragile ecosystems. It’s also very unsightly when you’re trying to enjoy this beautiful landscape and carries the risk of serious bacterial infection to humans.”

If you're looking to raise awareness in your local area about responsible dog ownership you may want to think about setting up a dog ambassador scheme. For more information visit

For more information on Take The Lead visit