How your dog can help you explore the outdoors after the lockdown

Alfie on the moors and off the lead

Alfie on the moors and off the lead - Credit: Alan Wright

The Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Alan Wright says his Lakeland Terrier Alfie has opened the door to countless wild encounters.

A hobby in the Lancashire sky

A hobby in the Lancashire sky - Credit: Ken Hayes

I have no doubts that my health curve definitely improved as a tiny Lakeland Terrier pup arrived at our Lancashire home over 11 years ago. As soon as he was old enough to go out for walks both mine and Julie’s health improved immensely and my knowledge of the local area increased.

Previously, I had been shunned by dog walkers for wandering around without a pet on a lead, I felt quite odd. Now, I am part of a dog walking community in the village, and I am never short of someone to talk to when I am out and about.

I have to admit that I don’t know the name of the majority of people I meet, I just know the dog’s name. So these people remain “Flossie’s mum”, “Darcy’s owner” and “Hilda’s dad” – actually Hilda’s dad is my friend Curly Dave, so I do know some of the people involved. Half of the conversation will be about the dog, so it’s a good way to pick up tips and stories.

For me, the beauty of having a companion at your side – or sniffing on that patch by the side of the path – is that you are going out in all weathers and experiencing the wonderful wildlife on your doorstep.

Curlews will protect their nests if they think you're too close

Curlews will protect their nests if they think you're too close - Credit: Andy Hankinson

I am lucky enough to live within 15 minutes of the West Pennine Moors and the views from “the tops” are spectacular. I have also had wild encounters during our walks.

I remember coming across a hobby, a small bird of prey sitting on top of a wall. It was staring me out and then just lifted its wings and flew off when I got too close.

Curlews have dive-bombed me as I, inadvertently, got too close to nests and a huge dog fox nonchalantly crossed my path on a warm summer’s day. One afternoon, a woodcock flew straight at me, about two feet off the ground, after being spooked. It veered off at the last minute but I thought I was going to be speared by that pointy bill.

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In the local woods, I have seen brown hare and, in the river, dipper and kingfisher. This week a heron eyed me up as I walked along the bank and then I managed to get some film of a weasel checking out the area for a home.

Having a dog means early morning and evening walks, the best times to see our best wildlife. It means I am strolling through the dawn chorus first thing and watching bats later on. The dawn chorus in spring and summer is one of the best health remedies I know, it will set me up for the most troublesome of days.

Having a dog is a great responsibility and I ensure that Alfie is not a pest to people or to wildlife. He is generally off the lead but he has been trained to walk mainly to heel. If I notice a dog I don’t know, running children or if I am in a sensitive wildlife area, he is back on the lead.

In my job, I can take him to reserves like Mere Sands Wood and the Lancashire sand dunes, where I know he will behave among other dogs. Fortunately, I have a dog that is only really interested in his own little world and his owners’. He has let me down a time or two, but that is generally when he gets the whiff of a female.

I certainly believe, in spring and summer, that dogs should not be able to roam across our moorlands, because there are too many ground-nesting creatures to disturb. If you cannot keep your dog under control awnd close to you, keep it on a lead.

There are many paths I wouldn’t have taken if I didn’t have Alfie by my side and I get a real buzz out of finding new spots. Having a dog introduces you to the most beautiful places and the most interesting people.

Looking forward

Three places to head for once the lockdown is over

Mere Sands Wood is the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s most dog-friendly reserve. Dogs must be on leads in this woodland reserve, helping to retain the tranquillity of the atmospheric walks in all weathers. Mere Sands Wood is on Holmeswood Road in Rufford (L40 1TG). A new café will open later in summer.

Lunt Meadows is the Trust’s most recent reserve and is a wetland paradise for some amazing birds and animals. Dogs on leads are welcome on the paths around the lakes, which have easy access to hides. Lunt Meadows is just outside Lunt village, near Maghull L29 7WL.

Moston Fairway is a wildlife paradise just a mile from the centre of Manchester. A former railway sidings, it flooded and took on the characteristics of a bog. A recently laid path around the boggy area is well used by local people and dogs on leads are welcome and safe from the watery areas. Moston Fairway is off The Fairway, in Moston M40 3NT.

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