At the Hayle Estuary RSPB reserve, Cornwall, we have had a constant battle with a few irresponsible individuals whose dogs are allowed, encouraged even, to run around the Nature Reserve chasing birds.  The owners are not oblivious to the disturbance their pets are causing and we have signs dotted around the perimeter asking people and their dogs not to venture out onto the estuary as this SCARES THE BIRDS AWAY. Usually our requests to call the dogs back are met with stark indifference or even, on one occasion, the owner calling his dog back only to put on a lead and then letting it go once more with a lead attached  - “He’s on a lead isn’t he?”!

After this week’s ruling, things just might change around here. 

On January 09 2008, we received a call from a Hayle resident describing an horrific attack by one of three dogs on a mute swan at Copperhouse Creek, a branch of our Hayle Estuary reserve.  The caller was clearly distressed by the incident and told of the disturbance the three dogs had caused generally before finally catching the swan and mutilating it.  By the time the police arrived the bird had been so badly mauled it had to be taken to a vet and sadly be put down. PC Paul Freestone a Wildlife Crime Officer (WCO) for Devon and Cornwall Police was instrumental at this stage in initiating the investigation and gathering evidence, which later proved vital in supporting the Natural England case.

Click here to see a graphic image of the mutilated swan - warning this may offend.

Copperhouse Creek is part of the Hayle Estuary SSSI and key to Natural England winning the case against the dog-owner, Mr Marlon Adams, was the fact that ‘wintering birds’ are a 'feature' of the SSSI and mute swans are included in the ‘wintering bird assemblage’.  Mr Adams was fined £250 with £250 costs at the Cambourne Magistrates’ Court on March 12th 2009, pleading guilty to the charge of ‘reckless disturbance’ to the SSSI Feature. 

This case sends an important message to other irresponsible dog-owners, that disturbing birds on this SSSI will not be tolerated.  Natural England are to be congratulated on winning this case, the first of its kind via Section 28P(6A) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 as substituted by Schedule 9 to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and amendments made by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.