A mandatory dog lead rule in Royal Parks takes place from 4 May – 2 August for the protection of deer conservation during birthing season.
SWL spoke to Richard Gray, conservation trustee of Friends of Richmond Park, to gain fresh insight into why the rule within the Royal Parks is important.
Gray said: “People are finding that pet ownership has been a real comfort during lockdown in particular. We’ve got a lot of new dogs, young dogs, puppies, and we’ve also got a lot of new pet owners.
“There is the potential for quite a lot of incidents with dogs-off-leads. Indeed we saw one last October, when a young faun was killed by a dog. These incidents do happen.
“This is a wildlife rich park. It’s a national heritage site. It’s a place of special scientific interest. It’s a very, very special place.”
Prevention of the harming of local deer has been made top priority in information issued by officials.
In a statement issued on 13 May, the Royal Parks said: “Female deer are afraid of dogs harming their young.
“Concern for their newborn means they may act defensively towards dogs – they have been known to give chase and attack – even if the dog is at a distance and not acting proactively.
“During deer birthing season, we strongly advise that dogs are not walked in either Richmond or Bushy Parks, but if this is not possible they must be on a lead in all areas of both parks from now until Monday 2 August.”
Deer are ‘instinctively frightened of dogs’, the Royal Parks and Friends of Richmond Park agree.
Incidents of dogs chasing deer are increasingly common, with many cases going unreported under the circumstances of lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Royal Parks added: “There have been 55 reported incidents of dogs chasing deer since August 2020, bringing the total number of reported incidents to 90 over the past year.
“However, as many incidents go unreported that figure is expected to be much higher.
“At least five deer have died as a result of these chases in the past year and a number of dog owners have appeared in court and been convicted for not having their dog under control.”
SWL interviewed residents walking their dogs in Richmond and Bushy Parks for their opinions in response to the mandatory dog lead rule.
Paula from West Sussex said: “I think it’s a good thing, we don’t want dogs chasing around and stressing the animals out.
“There have been incidents where I come from where sheep have been so terrified, they’ve had heart problems or have been chased away from their baby lambs, so I think the rules are really good.”
However, some residents disagree, with a petition on Change.org opposing the rule with a current circulation of 2,977 signatures.
Tom, a Bushy Park dog walker, said: “I think part of the problem is there’s no long grass here, on this side. It’s more problematic to have a dog on a lead, because the dogs end up getting more and more frustrated with each other.”
Simon Richards, park manager for Richmond Park, said: “Dog walkers must remain vigilant, avoid areas of dense vegetation and stick to the perimeter of the park.
“As a dog owner myself, I know this can be frustrating, but it really is for the safety of both deer and dogs.
“We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused and we thank all our visitors for their support with these measures.”
Please visit the Royal Parks website for more official guidance on dog-walking in Richmond and Bushy Parks.