A DOG owners’ group is appealing to Dorset Council not to enforce its new rules regarding dogs on the beach in Lyme Regis, which will ban exercising dogs off-lead on the town’s many sand and shingle beach from January 1 2021.
Instead, the ‘Lyme Regis’s Loving Dog Owners, Visitors & Friends’ Facebook group is asking the council to enforce laws already in place regarding dog ownership, which they say will “ensure loving dog owners are not unfairly penalised by only targeting those who break the law”.
Under Dorset Council’s new Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) coming into force on New Year’s Day, dogs will be excluded from the sand beach and Cobb Gate shingle beach in Lyme Regis between May 1 to September 30. However, in a change to previous rules, they will now have to be kept on a lead on these beaches outside this period, having previously been allowed to run loose during the winter months.
The argument over whether dogs should be allowed on the town’s main beach has been one of the most hotly-debated local topics in recent years.
Lyme Regis Town Council pushed for an all-year-round ban of dogs from the sand and shingle beach. Their concerns came from a number of complaints about dog’s mess found on the beach and they were heightened following an incident in which a 12-year-old boy was bitten by a dog on the beach in December 2018.
A well-supported petition was launched against an all-year-round ban and, following public consultation, Dorset Council has now rejected this proposal and agreed that keeping dogs on leads during the winter months was a fair compromise.
However, the ‘Lyme Regis’s Loving Dog Owners, Visitors & Friends’ Facebook group says the new rules raises “major concerns” for dog owner safety, accessibility and mental well-being, especially for those who are older or have mobility issues who are signposted to “less safe beaches” in order to allow their dog to exercise off-lead, as no other suitable safe space has been provided.
They have also expressed concerns about dog welfare with “no safe space to exercise dogs off leads”, plus potential loss of income for local business, including the 33 businesses advertised as ‘dog-friendly’ around the town, as dog owners may take their pets elsewhere.
The group will be presenting a 9,000-strong petition to the council, signed by both residents and visitors, asking for restrictions not to be imposed using the new PSPO, as well as video evidence on their YouTube Channel of who is using the beaches on a regular basis.
Instead, they’re asking Dorset Council to use existing laws on dog ownership so only those who cause issues are penalised.
They are also appealing to the Lyme Regis Town Council, as landowners of the sandy beach, to allow dog owners to exercise their dogs off lead during the winter months, should the Dorset Council decline their appeal.
The group’s founder Debbie Conibere said: “The simple solution is to look at the example being set by North Devon Council who are enforcing the current laws surrounding dog ownership, only targeting those who break the laws, instead of using the PSPO to blanket ban all dog owners which discriminates against those loving dog owners who keep their dogs under control, pick up fouling and many of whom pick up litter and keep the beaches safe for all to use.
“Councils need to be mindful that, as well as the regular daily dog walkers who tend to be creatures of habit and walk at the same time each day, there are many families with children who are also dog owners, who enjoy family time outdoors together as a unit on this safe and accessible beach.
“Families, and those with mobility issues, will be signposted to tidal beaches that are under seawater for a lot of the day and less safe beaches with steep steps, slippery large rocks, broken glass and twisted metal from the Victorian tip, blue lias and rock falls, which can lead to expensive rescues when cut off by the tide and accidents on the unsuitable terrain.
“This PSPO also gives a subliminal message that the welfare of the responsible and loving dog owners are not important enough to allow them off-lead exercise on the only safe accessible beach in Lyme Regis.
“Leaving your regular daily dog walker and families facing tidal beaches that are underwater at their usual dog walking time is unfair, discriminating and depressing.
“We are making this appeal at the same time that The Kennel Club are petitioning the government to cease the use of PSPO to impose restrictions on dog owners.”
Dorset Council’s recent public consultation on dogs on beaches, which was held with the aim of harmonising restrictions on beaches across the county, showed 49.2% of respondents in favour of dogs off leads on Lyme Regis beach, against 48.7% for dogs on leads.
Mrs Conibere added: “Instead of going with the majority results which included input from visitors, who bring much needed revenue and income into the town, these visitors responses were dismissed and a new result of dogs on leads during the winter months was given.
“The dog group feel this blanket ban is highly unfair and questions why all responses were not taken into consideration especially when Dorset Council wanted to harmonise restrictions across their beaches.
“Lyme Regis Town Council submitted a statement to the PSPO Scrutiny Committee requesting a full-year ban of dogs on the only safe and accessible beach and stated that dog fouling to be one of the issues when, in fact, there have been zero fines for dog fouling in 2020 and only three issued in 2019 for the whole of Dorset.”
Regular visitor Marion Morris also expressed her disappointment at the restrictions, commenting: “Once the on-lead restrictions come into place I will no long be visiting Lyme Regis sandy beach with my three-year-old and 13-year-old grandchildren, and two friendly springer spaniels, due to the alternative beaches not being accessible for me due to having trouble walking on uneven ground and slippery rocks.
“This means the local shops and dog friendly cafes will lose my custom too.”
You can find out more on the Lyme Regis’s Loving Dog Owners, Visitors & Friends Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/lymeregisdogowners