Mark international dog day with a walk in the South Downs National Park

Taking your dog for a walk has a number of therapeutic benefits especially when the scenery is as beautiful as the South Downs.

Alfie the maltichon enjoying the views of the South Downs National Park
Alfie the maltichon enjoying the views of the South Downs National Park

On international dog day (August 26) the National Park Authority is offering its top tips for a great dog walk.

It comes as research studies have shown that dog owners are four times more likely to meet the national recommended amount of weekly physical activity than people without dogs.

The stunning scenery of the National Park and its 3,300km of public rights of way have been a lifeline for dog-walkers across the region during the past six months, including Alison Berrisford.

Alison said dog walking in the South Downs is a cathartic experience for her and her two Siberian cross German Shepherds, Badger and Laika.

Alison explained: “Dog walking helps me relax, especially with the current pandemic.

“Sometimes we’re so busy in “normal” life that we forget to take time to ourselves. Dog walking has improved my life by allowing me to take my time and breathe in the nature around me. Even just half an hour a day has a tremendous benefit on my mental health and allows me to focus on being in the moment with my best friends – that’s what I really love about dog walking.

Alison is currently a dog ambassador for the Heathlands Reunited project, which is working to protect and enhance the precious, but vulnerable, lowland heaths of the National Park. The project was able to pilot this pioneering volunteer role thanks to generous National Lottery Heritage funding.

Alison added: “We are so lucky to have the beautiful South Downs countryside to explore, but we need to be mindful that we play our part in helping to look after it. I always pick up my dog’s poo to ensure it doesn’t ruin someone else’s walk and more importantly so no germs get into the soil – poo bags are inexpensive and there’s some great corn-starch compostable versions available now so you can protect the countryside and not worry about adding to landfill.”

As farmers are in the thick of harvest season at this time of year, dog walkers have an important role to play in helping to look after the South Downs.

Farmer Caroline Harriott, whose family farm tenanted land near Sompting, explained: “As a farming family fortunate enough to farm on the beautiful South Downs, we take great pride in being custodians of the countryside and at the same time producing quality local produce for the general public.

“However, like lots of other farmed areas on the Downs, our farm is a busy, professional workplace, so there are a few simple things that visitors, especially dog walkers, can do to help ensure we can go about our daily work and continue to provide delicious produce.

“Please park sensibly, allowing space for tractors and access to field gates at all times, take your litter, and dog poo home and please stick to the many footpaths to help protect precious crops and ensure ground nesting birds can flourish. It is also vital to keep your dogs on a lead around wildlife and livestock to ensure farmer’s livestock can graze safely and for you and your own dog’s safety. A pregnant ewe can easily abort her young if she is chased and the devastation that can result from a dog attack is extremely upsetting and also costly to our family business.”

As part of the Take The Lead initiative, here are four steps to being a good pooch this autumn:

- Keep dogs on a lead near livestock

- Bag and bin your poo, any public bin will do

- Respect farmland and stick to the paths

- Do not enter military training areas when the red flags are flying

Allison Thorpe, access and recreation lead for the National Park, added: “We know many people have rediscovered the joys of the countryside during the COVID-19 pandemic and we expect this to continue as we move from the summer months and into the autumn.

“It’s fantastic that dog-walkers are enjoying the mental and physical benefits of the great outdoors and long may this continue.”

For more details about the Take The Lead initiative visit

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