Calls for tighter dog controls to protect Bedford’s swans

Bedford Swans by Janice Elliott 2013
Bedford Swans by Janice Elliott 2013

Calls for tighter dog controls around Bedford’s swans have been made, but Bedford Borough Council says they will not introduce blanket restrictions.

Joanne Gullon, who runs St. Bede’s Ford Swannery has made the calls after she filmed what appears to be an out of control dog attacking grazing swans.

“A young and excitable spaniel chased at the birds on five separate occasions,” says Joanne.

“Whilst the dog walker was repeatedly asked to get his dog under control, he made no concerted effort to do so until his dog jumped into the flooded river.”

Joanne believes this was in an attempt to attack swans in the water.

Days later, Joanne found a young swan with a deep puncture wound and injured leg.

“The wound was festering and believed to be several days old… Unfortunately, the cygnet had to be put to sleep due to the severity of the wound and subsequent infection,” said Joanne.

A vet was unable to confirm what caused the injury but did say it was compatible with a fox or dog bite.

“We do not tolerate dogs acting dangerously”

After Joanne contacted Bedford Borough Council about the incident, they issued a reminder to dog owners that it is against the law for dogs to be dangerously out of control anywhere, including both public and private land.

“We do not tolerate dogs acting dangerously out of control in Bedford Borough and are committed to making sure that people and animals can feel safe when in public,” said Councillor Charles Royden, Portfolio Holder for Environment

A Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) is in place throughout Bedford Borough which means dog owners must:

  • Clean up any fouling by their dog
  • Put an ‘out of control’ dog on a lead when directed to do so
  • Make sure their dog is on a lead in certain designated areas
  • Not allow their dog to enter areas where dogs are excluded such as children’s play areas

It is the owner’s responsibility to make sure their dog is acting in a safe and appropriate manner. Anyone ignoring a PSPO can be fined £75 on the spot and up to £1,000 if the case goes to court.

If a dog is dangerously out of control, the owner can receive an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months.

Attacks upon wildlife are commonplace

Joanne, however, believes this doesn’t go far enough, claiming dog attacks upon wildlife in Mill Meadows and other areas are commonplace.

“This is a result of a grey area within current law, which often results in it being difficult to prove a case of injury to wildlife,’ says Joanne.

St Bede’s Ford Swannery is now calling for tougher controls to help prosecute dog owners and walkers who allow their dog to harass and/or injure wildlife.

  • Bedford Borough Council to extend the current dog control orders in place by Bedford Borough Council, to include all areas of the Mill Meadows and Embankment area, with the exception of those designated as a loose dog exercise area.
  • Bedford Borough Council/St Bede’s Ford Swannery to construct a secure, dedicated loose dog exercise area as shown in the attached image, on currently underused land.
  • St Bede’s to launch a national petition seeking an amendment to the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, to create a specific law of “worrying of wildlife” to protect all wildlife from dangerously out of control dogs.

A Bedford Borough spokesperson said: “The vast majority of dog owners are responsible and as such the Council would not look to introduce blanket restrictions on our parks and open spaces for dog owners.

“These spaces exist for the enjoyment of people, families and dog walkers.

“However, our officers have the powers to request that owners control their dogs and put them on a lead if their behaviour is considered unacceptable.

“Failure to put and keep their dog on a lead when asked to do so by an authorised officer may result in a fine of up to £1,000 or a fixed penalty fine of £75.”

To find out where the Council has issued dog control orders, visit their website.

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