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Copper Beech (photo by Matt Maran)

Hampstead Heath provides a wonderful setting for dog walking. Exercise in natural habitats contributes to the health of both dogs and people. To make sure we can walk dogs and maintain the Heath’s remarkable biodiversity, a balance is needed. Our natural habitats are fragile and easily damaged, and several million dog visits per year can have an impact. Recent studies on the Heath suggest that birds like thrushes avoid woodlands with high paw-fall. By working together we can reduce disturbance of our natural habitats  and ensure that future generations continue to enjoy a biodiversity-rich Heath.

There are some very simple ways that we can help as dog walkers.

We can keep dogs under  control in woodlands and along bushy field margins, ensuring that they stay close to paths and do not run through dense undergrowth where birds, reptiles and mammals are resting and nesting.

We can respect fenced and roped-off areas that protect sensitive habitats, keeping our dogs on the right side of them.  In meadows, we can prevent our dogs from chasing birds and digging holes. For instance, on the Heath dogs love to dig up the mounds made by meadow ants, but this decreases the food source of the Green Woodpecker, one of our less common and much-loved birds.

And of course, we can pick up dog poo and put it in the bins. Did you know that dog poo and wee is so rich in nutrients that it can change the kinds of plants that grow nearby, making affected areas unsuitable for our wildflowers?

The City of London has produced guidelines for dog walkers on the Heath, please give them a read? And remember, if you are walking on the Kenwood Estate, or entering it from another part of the Heath, English Heritage posts clear signage on where dogs must be kept on leads. Please respect these rules.

In our next seasonal board, we will explore dog swimming, a very special pleasure for dogs and people on the Heath, and how we can enjoy it while minimizing damage to wildlife and ponds.

Green Woopeckers feed on meadow ants (photo by Adrian Brooker)
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