COUNTY NEWS: New South Downs National Park campaign tackles problem dogs

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Recruiting dog ambassadors, films sharing ‘canine confessions’ and an Instagram parody are all part of the South Downs National Park’s latest campaign encouraging people to ‘Take the Lead’.

With more than 3,300km of rights of way across the national park, the South Downs welcomes many thousands of dogs for walks every day. While the vast majority of dog owners behave responsibly there are still a few that are ‘giving dogs a bad name.’

Recently it has been the turn of Malling Down Nature Reserve in Lewes where ten sheep have been killed in the past few months by dogs allowed to run wild.

Traumatised sheep may go on to abort their lambs. These attacks are distressing for everyone involved, affect farmer’s livelihoods and can even jeopardise work to conserve and protect rare habitats.

The issues are brought to life in a new series of films called ‘canine confessions’, featuring dogs recruited while out walking in the National Park. The first two tackle the serious subjects of sheep worrying and disturbance to ground nesting birds in a humorous and engaging way.

There will also be prizes up for grabs in a social media competition starting on April 1 parodying the popular #FollowMeTo Instagram account. #TaketheLeadTo will encourage people to share and vote for photos of dogs out walking in the National Park.

Special ‘dog walking ambassadors’ are wanted to help spread the word and encourage responsible dog ownership in their local area.

To watch the animation, ‘Canine Confessions’ and to sign up as an ambassador visit South Downs National Park website

Andrew Lee, director of countryside management said: “We know the vast majority of dog owners who use the South Downs would be devastated to think that they might be harming the countryside they love to walk in.

“Sadly it’s the exceptions that make the headlines. In all likelihood the owners of the dogs involved believe their pets are soft and cuddly members of the family who wouldn’t hurt a fly. They may not even be aware that a farmer has every right to shoot their pet if caught.

“Our challenge is to tell a serious story in an entertaining way that celebrates the great dog owners and encourages more people to Take the Lead.”

Simple steps dog owners can follow include: bag your dog poo and put it in the bin; keep dogs on a lead or under close control around livestock; keep dogs on a lead and stick to the paths during ground nesting bird season from March 1-September 15; avoid Ministry of Defence land when the red flags are flying – keep your dog safe, find an alternative route.

Take the Lead is part of the Heathlands Reunited Project, made possible by National Lottery players and a £1.45million Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant. Find out more here. Take the Lead

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