An example of signage in the Peaks District
Over the last few years, dog control has become a major issue for Wicklow’s upland sheep farmers as increased recreational use of the hills clashes with the historic use of the hills for sheep farming. Wicklow has been at the forefront of opening up private land for recreational use since the establishment of the Wicklow Way in 1980 but the growing presence of uncontrolled dogs has the potential to threaten existing access agreements. In general, private landowners welcome responsible recreational use of the hills and central to this is responsible dog ownership. Wicklow Uplands Council has been working with the stakeholders to address this escalating problem. It aims to raise awareness, encourage reporting of incidents to Wicklow County Council and to work towards practical solutions. This is a complex issue given the mix of land use and ownership across the county.
Wicklow Uplands Council is considering offering support to farmers in the use of signage restricting access to walkers with dogs on private land where sheep are present. This move comes in an effort to alleviate the negative impacts of uncontrolled dogs at key hotspots where recreational use is high and sheep are present including Glenmalure, Glendalough, Glenmacnass and Lugnaquilla. This is with a view to promoting a consistent message to ask recreational users to respect grazing animals, wildlife and other recreational users and leave their dogs at home. The message is in keeping with the policies of Tinahely Community Projects (on their hill walks), Mountaineering Ireland, and the National Defence Force which owns land on the western approach to Lugnaquilla.
Uncontrolled dogs are a serious threat to the livelihood of upland farmers. Dogs loose on the hills cause anxiety within a flock of sheep often causing them to be displaced and get stuck in rough ground and vegetation. One of the impacts that is often unseen by recreational users is the early abortion of lambs and in the worst incidences; dogs directly attack sheep causing them severe injury or death. This is not just a problem for the landowner in terms of their livelihood but it is also a serious animal welfare issue. The problem is not limited to walker’s dogs with damage often being caused by local dogs which stray from neighbouring properties and their owners are unaware of their whereabouts. To prevent such occurrences please ensure that your dog is secure.
Dog owners also need to be aware of other people walking. Whether it is tourists, locals or visitors to the area many people are genuinely frightened of dogs. It can become very unpleasant to be confronted by a dog especially if they bark or come too close to people. Dogs can also become very nervous of people particularly if they have walking poles or sticks which often cause distress to the dog.Walkers are welcome in County Wicklow but please respect local signage and leave dogs at home if you intend to access land where livestock are present. There are many places that are suitable for dog walking across the county including Coillte forests but please remember that dogs must be under ‘effectual control’ in these areas. This means that they will return to their owner when called.
If you witness an incident of sheep worrying or damage to livestock please report it immediately to: Wicklow County Council Ph: 0404 20236 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you see a stray dog in the hills please report it immediately to the ISPCA Dog Warden Service Ph: 0404 44873.Author: Tommy Healy, Hill Sheep Farmer &Chairman of WUC’s Dog Control Subcommittee