The Tees Valley Local Access Forum is a group set up by statute and operated by volunteers, which monitors and advises local authorities on issues involving public access and rights of way.
At the end of September we held our quarterly meeting in Hartlepool, and invited the Countryside Access Officer and Countryside Officer to share their experiences with our volunteer members.
We enjoyed the good news of additional, safer access being created across the borough for cyclists through Hartlepool Borough Council’s draft cycling plan.
We noted the additional footpaths being created via S106 agreements with local property developers, and the access being created by volunteer groups across our parks and rights of way network.
Sadly, we also noted the state that Hartlepool’s local nature reserves and beaches are in, due to irresponsible dog owners.
At present, dog owners enjoy free, lead-off exercise across all the reserves in the borough.
However we fear this open-handed approach could be withdrawn because of the continual abuse of these beautiful wild areas, particularly in the case of Seaton dunes which are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
In one week, in the middle of September, volunteers, who work alongside the Countryside Officer, visited Seaton beach and Seaton dunes on two occasions to collect litter.
They collected 43 black bags of litter, which included 284 bags of dog excrement.
On the Tuesday, the Brownies and Guides volunteers collected 63 bags of dog excrement, with a further 221 bags collected the following Sunday as part of a public Great British Beach Clean event, held to support the work of the Marine Conservation Society.
We understand the council intends to step up patrols from the team of enforcement officers, who will issue fines to those dog owners who are caught in the act of throwing their rubbish away and allowing their pets to foul public spaces.
No doubt there will be indignant folk complaining about it, but there could be worse to come unless all dog owners manage their behaviour within the present law.
At present, dog owners are required to clean up after their dog. It is the law.
But the council, along with all other local authorities, now has access to updated legislation.
If the council decides that the abuse of its local nature reserves is to stop, then it can enact Public Space Protection Orders.
It could decide to use the maximum penalty permitted under the law and exclude all dogs, whether on leads or otherwise, from all of its local nature reserves.
So, to the good people of Hartlepool, please take your rubbish and bags of dog faeces home or use one of the many waste bins that the council has provided for use.
Don’t let a few people spoil it for everyone.
Tees Valley Local Access Forum,
C/o Bridge Road,