Wednesday, 26 March 2014

In The Lurch

Hello. Guest blogger Dan here.

This afternoon a man with a lurcher was trying to catch hares. This hare in fact. He must have sensed that he was being eyeballed as he worked the fields south of Aldcliffe Hall Lane, because he later sidled up and asked me if I was watching him! He told me about Mollie (his accomplice) and showed me snaps of the tattooed (!) and muzzled pit bull terrier he had at home, which kept his one-year-old Harris Hawk company. All in all, we got quite chummy. Then I shopped him to the police.

This area is quite popular with amateur hare coursers. Brown Hare is now fairly scarce around here, and this illegal pastime is only making them more so. So, dear readers, if you see somebody engaged in this pursuit I suggest you do what I did and dial 101-- and Lancashire's finest will send someone out.

The fellow's lurcher was under quite tight control, which is more than can be said of many of the pet dogs along the estuary these days. I have more respect for these bloodsport hobbyists than those who let their canines run loose on the saltmarshes and mudflats disturbing the wild birds again and again.

The former has good fieldcraft, some awareness of the local wildlife... and a goal. The latter are doing just as much damage to important fauna and flora for little reason other than their own sense of entitlement.

Today I was watching 550 pink-footed geese as they washed and drank in the river. They were scared off by four off-lead pets bounding along the waters edge. The owners were walking along a sliver of marsh with no access. The wild birds have come all the way from Iceland. The dogs had come all the way from semis in Galgate, via Conder Green.

The geese were at least able to feel safe on Colloway Marsh, on the western side of the estuary which has no easy access.

It's been pointed out to me that dog-walkers are using unofficial footpaths and seeking out new areas for exercising their pets because of an increase in cyclists on the multi-use path. It's true and I hadn't realised the correlation until recently.

Some cyclists aren't as courteous as they should be along here, but it is only a moment's inconvenience to get one's dog under control, and not a valid excuse to abandon the designated public right of way.

The estuary and its saltmarshes are of course part of Morecambe Bay SPA. SPA is one of the highest designations of protection in Europe. And Pink-footed Goose, as well as Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank and many other species that use the patch (and are disturbed daily by some dog walkers) are a big part of the reason for this and we should do our best to leave the birds in peace.

Aside from the footpath on the bund Dawsons Bank which runs along the edge of the marsh from the foot of Aldcliffe Hall Lane to Marsh Point, the only right of way is the 'cyclepath'. Apart from paid up members of the Morecambe Bay Wildfowlers Association, no-one else has permission or good reason to set foot on the saltmarsh. With a little skill all of the birds that use these habitats can be seen from the shared use path. And in a tidal area, surely it's better that people steer clear for safety's sake too.

It would be helpful if signs stating this and the international significance of the SPA could be erected in appropriate spots, so that people can be made aware of the issues and the negative impact of seemingly innocent behaviour. Perhaps the signs could be jointly funded by the local bird club and the Morecambe Bay Wildfowlers Association, both of which surely have an interest in keeping the area special for all.

Footfall and pawfall in the locality is only going to increase as the new estate along the quay road is finished, and the new residents and their dogs come along, and follow the poor example of the current users.

Sadly it's not just the marshes that are under growing pressure. Farm gates are left open for weeks at a time so that occasional visits by tractor drivers can be made unimpeded. In years gone by, it was drummed into visitors to the countryside that gates should be kept shut at all times. As a boy, I was forever afraid of being shouted at by Farmer Giles any number of small farmland indiscretions. Now, like everyone else, I have nothing to fear from him.

As a result we're all seeing an increase in people walking their dogs in the fields themselves. On several recent occasions I have seen a middle aged couple exercising their setters in the improved fields by Aldcliffe village. While I'm sure they mean no harm, I have seen them flushing hares and Grey Partridges. In decades past dogs ran free on the streets and were put on leads in the countryside, nowadays the reverse is true, and our wildlife is really suffering as a result.


1 comment:

Phil Slade said...

Well said Dan. Unfortunately most dog owners don't give a toss about the valid points you have raised, the "responsible" authorities even less.