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Monday, 29 June 2015

A Modest Proposal for dog-free green spaces

I am not a connoisseur by nature. There are things that I like but they are not arrived at by exhaustive testing of all the possibilities nor do I insist on them.

I do like relatively small, enclosed public gardens. Botanical gardens, country house gardens and such like. In central Prague, there is a wonderful old enclosed kitchen garden, the Vojanovy Sady, now a public park. I once spent some time taking photographs there.

Much nearer to home, I have Lewes Southover Grange Gardens, owned and managed by Lewes District Council. It dates from the 16th century, with some very old trees still standing, and is on low-lying ground straddling an east-west stream. It’s enclosed and, in relation to the town, is sunken. If you sit looking north, you get a wonderful view of the roofscape of old Lewes and the castle at the top of it all. It’s very well maintained with colourful seasonal flower beds backed by mature shrubs. It’s a huge credit to the Council and the gardeners.

I’ve been going there for thirty years or more. It’s very peaceful and when young people from the local tertiary college gather there, they lounge on the grass relaxed and chatting as if the garden dictates quietness as appropriate behaviour.

It’s long been a favourite of parents with babies and toddlers and they also spread out on the lawns close to the hatch in the main building through which tea and cakes are served (there is no actual tea room).

It occurred to me that one reason that everyone can relax like this is a simple prohibition: dogs are not allowed in the gardens. So you can spread out on the grass without first having to check for dog shit and without ever being worried by someone’s terrier.

One of the sad things about public green spaces in England is that at least 90% of the surface area is dedicated to dog shit. This is true even for green spaces used as school playing fields or for weekend football. Near to Lewes, Worthing has a large central green area, Victoria Park, with two schools facing onto it. Two or three percent of the surface area is cordoned off as an over-used and under-maintained children’s playground with No Dogs allowed. The rest is a dog shitting field, visited by a constant stream of professional dog walkers. People are sometimes bitten there by uncontrolled dogs and I have been pursued there by a nasty little yapping Jack Russell. It could be a very pleasant green space and it isn't.

Why local councils put dogs above people I don’t know. It may just be thoughtlessness – but then they are constantly reminded of what they are doing because they have to spend very large sums of public money removing dog shit from the ground and from dog shit bins.

I have a Modest Proposal. As a Quality of Life measure, the government should instruct local authorities to designate 50% of the green public spaces, seafront promenades, beaches and so on which they control as people-only zones, rather as one designates pedestrian precincts. It would make such a difference. 

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