Why dog fouling remains one of Northumberland's biggest bugbears

There have been calls for a better solution to the problem of dog fouling in NorthumberlandThere have been calls for a better solution to the problem of dog fouling in Northumberland
There have been calls for a better solution to the problem of dog fouling in Northumberland
Dog fouling continues to cause a stink in Northumberland communities, and fresh frustrations about the apparent lack of solution have been raised by representatives.

One councillor told a recent meeting that dog mess ‘is still the big thing’, while another called for enforcement officers to be more proactive rather than simply responding to complaints.

Phil Soderquest, Northumberland County Council’s head of public protection, presented an update on environmental enforcement in 2020 to the communities and place committee on Wednesday, February 3.

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“Across dog control, we are still seeing a high number of complaints,” he said. “We have had staffing issues, but we are able to respond to the complaints that are made.”

The report to councillors explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has ‘significantly impacted’ on enforcement with only essential work conducted between mid-March and July, and routine patrolling suspended.

It also explained that the environmental enforcement and animal welfare team had not been at full strength for nearly 18 months due to staff turnover and only returned to full strength in November 2020.

“Enforcement activity has been limited,” Mr Soderquest added. “If you go back five or six years and look at our performance in terms of fixed penalty notices (FPNs), we were probably in the lowest tier.

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“That position was turned around in three to four years and we have become one of the highest in FPNs, although they aren’t always a measure of success.”

Figures show that a total of 989 dog fouling complaints were received during 2020 up to the end of November, with just 20 actions taken – 12 fixed penalty notices, six prosecutions with another two prosecutions pending – across all dog offences.

But Mr Soderquest said: “The Green Dog Walkers scheme has seen a reduction in the number of complaints we have got, because we have more positive action out there; people allowing dogs to foul are being approached by members of Green Dog Walkers.”

This initiative now has 3,832 members, which ‘has far exceeded officer expectations and makes it the most successful scheme of its type in the North East’.

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Members pledge to always clean up after their dog and dispose of the bag in a bin, and when walking their dog to wear the Green Dog Walker armband, offer free dog bags to encourage others, hand out leaflets and at all times adopt a non-confrontational and friendly approach to changing attitudes about dog fouling.

However, not all members of the committee were convinced about the approach being taken.

Cllr Liz Dunn said the scheme was not making a difference in her Lynemouth ward, adding: “The dog mess situation is still the big thing, loads of complaints every day.”

Mr Soderquest responded: “It comes back to the 80-20 thing. 80% of people are doing the right thing all the time and there is a minority who will go out of their way to walk their dog at certain hours of the day so they’re not observed and then the classic one that I don’t understand is the ones who pick it up but then hang the bag in a tree.

“I don’t think we can ever say that problem’s sorted, it’s always going to be a problem.”

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Cllr Colin Horncastle said: “Maybe it’s the way you’re trying to handle this, you’re following up complaints.

“If you give me the power to be an enforcement officer, I could go over the road to my nearest village, Allendale, and within half-an-hour I could have somebody for not picking up after them.

“Maybe the enforcement officers should be more proactive and come into communities, whether more urban areas or rural villages, and just sit there for half-an-hour because they would get them just like that.”

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