Enjoying nature reserves with man’s best friend

Walking the dog at Coombe Hill

Walking the dog at Coombe Hill - Credit: Archant

Oh to be in the Cotswolds on a crisp November morning, with the crunch of fallen leaves under foot and the watery sun streaming through the soon to be bare branches. And, says the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, what better way to enjoy it than with a canine companion

Autumn woods

Autumn woods - Credit: Archant

There are few things to beat the feeling of exploring the glories of the Gloucestershire countryside on a crisp autumnal day in the company of a faithful four-legged pal.

Deer

Deer - Credit: Archant

Kicking leaves, throwing sticks or just taking time, as the poet WH Davies urged us, to ‘stand and stare’ are all the better when shared with man’s best friend.

Redwing

Redwing - Credit: Archant

Fortunately for dog owners in Gloucestershire, there are 60 Trust nature reserves to visit, ranging from the old Mythe Railway embankments, with fantastic views over the Severn Vale, to the ancient Lower Woods in the south of the county, with three waymarked trails and more than 60 miles of paths, rides and wide grassy trenches.

Littley New Trench

Littley New Trench - Credit: Archant

Siccaridge Wood near Sapperton, with the River Frome and disused Thames and Severn Canal running along its southern side, is a delight at any time of the year, while Lancaut in the Forest of Dean features views of the Lower Wye Gorge, together with a wealth of bird life.

Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Beech (Fagus sylvatica) - Credit: Archant

And who could resist following in the footsteps of Cider with Rose author, Laurie Lee, with a bouncing hound at one’s heels exploring the stunning Slad Valley, now boasting no fewer than four nature reserves, before ending up in The Woolpack for a well-deserved pint.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust welcomes dogs onto most of its nature reserves, although owners are reminded of the importance of remembering the Countryside Code when they are out and about.

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Some rules, such as keeping to footpaths and closing gates, are easy to understand, but others sometimes need a bit of explanation for their purpose to become clearer.

Take, for example, the delicate matter of dogs fouling in nature reserves; to some owners this is thought of as a natural function, the product of which gradually rots down to nourish the soil.

Such a view is enough for reserve managers to throw up their hands in horror, however, for they know only too well that dog faeces can actually kill the rare wild flowers that they work so hard to protect.

“Allowing dogs to foul in public places is not only anti-social and unpleasant for others, but it can actually have an impact on wildlife – especially flora,” explains Dr Colin Studholme, Director of Conservation at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.

“Many of our favourite wildflowers will only grow in soil of low fertility. Plants have evolved to these low nutrient conditions over millennia and it is only over the last 60–70 years that nutrient levels in the countryside have increased with the widespread use of chemical fertilisers.

“In the same way that a bag of nitrate fertiliser can change a flower-rich meadow into boring grassland dominated by coarse grasses and nettles, an accumulation of nutrients from dog faeces over time can eliminate delicate and rare wildflowers from path edges, grass verges and woodland rides, replacing them with more vigorous species more at home with high nutrient levels.”

As far as Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust is concerned, the simple solution for dog walkers is to ‘take it home’, rather than flicking it into a hedge or scooping it into a bag and leaving it hanging from a bush.

Another important message for dog owners is to keep their pets under close control or on leads at all times to avoid upset to both livestock and wildlife.

“Without meaning to, dogs can seriously disturb, and even trample, ground nesting birds in sensitive areas, and the likelihood is that you won’t know that the nest is even there!” says Colin.

Fortunately for Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, the vast majority of people who visit its nature reserves abide by the Countryside Code and enjoy a rich experience of natural world around them as a result.

“It is only an inconsiderate few who spoil it for others and can have a serious impact on wildlife,” says Colin. “As the saying goes ‘take only pictures, steal only time, leave only footprints!’”

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Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust is a countywide charity which manages 60 acres. Its aim is to secure a natural enviornment which the people of Gloucestershire and visitors can enjoy for generations to come. Local membership numbers over 27,000 people and 500 regular volunteers give their time to support the Trust’s work. Membership of the Trust costs from just £2.25 a month.

Join online at: gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk

Tel: 01452 383333

Or visit the Trust’s Conservation Centre at Robinswood Hill Country Park, Gloucester.

Registered Charity No. 232580

Follow on Twitter: @gloswildlife

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