To Beach Or Not To Beach: Should Dogs Be Allowed At Seaton & Downderry? That Is The Question….

Article Update – 29 August 2019.

This article was originally published on 10 August 2019. Since then Cornwall Council have officially launched the public consultation concerning dogs accessing beaches including Seaton & Downderry.

Have a read of the article to discover some background and in the ‘Next Steps’ section you will find links to the Council Consultation and Public Survey.

Original Article (10/08/19)

Recently, there has been a flurry of social media activity concerning dogs accessing Seaton and Downderry beaches in South East Cornwall. This follows Cornwall Council preparing to commence a mandatory three year review of dog access to all the County’s beaches.

Opinions on social media have predictably fallen into two distinct camps and both have legitimate points of view. Dog owners have concerns about reduced opportunities to take Fido to the seaside, whilst ban supporters have concerns about mess and dogs being kept under proper control.

Reality Check

It’s important to highlight the consultation process is yet to formally start. Cornwall Council were due to debate, and potentially sign off, on the proposed consultation process on Thursday 18th July 2019. As yet no minutes or press releases have been published to confirm the outcome of that meeting.

The current status of Cornwall’s beaches, dog friendly or otherwise, holds until April 2020 with any amendments implemented after that. 

What has happened to date, is that the Council have undertaken a pre-consultation exercise by writing to Parish and Town Councils to seek views in advance of the formal consultation process. This has been discussed at some local meetings and appears to have kickstarted campaigns, debate on social media and calls to action. 

It would seem such discussions have also resulted in misunderstandings including a suggestion the review has arisen out of a campaign launched by new residents to Seaton and Downderry seeking a ban. This is not correct. 

Cornwall Council have to, by law, undertake reviews of Public Space Protection Orders (which govern dogs accessing beaches) for the entire county every three years and that time is now. Cue the same old points of view which give no quarter to the other side.

Seeing Both Sides…  

Consider this: Years ago, when I worked as a Forestry Commission Ranger, building good relations with ‘our’ regular dog walkers was essential. Common sense really, for they were our eyes and ears reporting anything amiss in the forests and would be out at all hours in all weather conditions throughout the entire year. 

Following winter storms earlier this year I discovered, and reported to the Environment Agency, a sewer breach at Seaton and on another day rang 999 to report a concern for welfare for a man in the water at Tregantle. On both occasions the only reason I was on the beach was to exercise the dog. 

What about the financial benefits dog walkers bring to areas such as this? Pub landlord Chris Hartley, of the Smugglers Inn at Seaton, has initiated an online petition for Seaton and Downderry to remain dog friendly, not least because a ban presents serious threats as to the year round viability and survival of local businesses. So far over 6,600 people have signed the petition. 

Before I stand accused of being completely one sided by highlighting the benefits dog walkers can bring, I really can, and do, appreciate both sides of the argument. As I type this, I am awaiting Police action following my ten year old son being bitten and injured by an off lead and out of control, dog on a North Cornwall beach. 

The owner not only failed to be in any way apologetic, but also furnished off duty Police Officers at the scene with entirely false details to try and prevent any follow up. I freely admit to being open to a canine beach ban in the immediate aftermath of that particular incident. However, with a little time to calm down and reflect, such a viewpoint is tempered by acknowledging the scores of responsible dog owners we met that weekend.

Banning dogs from beaches seems to be a convenient way to avoid pursuing errant individuals who, quite frankly, need challenging and prosecuting. Moreover, bans will not stop their behaviour, it will simply move it elsewhere to other prized public spaces. 

Is It Time To Think Differently?

It’s all too easy to criticise the Council during these challenging times. However, I do question the wisdom and conduct of the pre-consultation exercise. Cornwall Council acknowledge feelings have previously run high on both sides of this particular argument. The same seems likely to happen again, so was it sensible to spark debate before deciding on or clearly communicating the process?

Of course residents and their Parish and Town Councils must have an important say about amenities in their area. However, these beaches accessed by people from over a wide area and not just Seaton and Downderry residents. The very nature of this part of the World means no local community can, or does, live in splendid isolation. We all use resources and amenities across neighbouring areas, need to work together and be respectful of others when doing so.

That’s the problem with bans. They are divisive, alienating the blameless and polarising communities into the haves and have nots who become comfortable with seeking outcomes to their benefit whilst indifferent to, or even motivated by, the detriment of others. So, instead, why not try and create a sense of community and working together to find solutions to conflicting recreation interests?

Look around the Tamar Valley and there are good examples. In Saltash poop bags are offered in recycled plastic bottles in and around public spaces for those who may have forgotten to bring some or run out. 

Plymouth City Council have recently announced, to widespread public support, the deployment of plain clothed enforcement officers to tackle the problem. Great stuff! How many ‘chancers’ are now thinking twice?  

The proposed public questionnaire for the consultation feels somewhat leading in exploring how a ban should operate. There is only one section at the end for further comment and little sense of seeking a shared problem solving approach to benefit everyone. 

Whatever happens, there will remain many other forms of annoying anti social behaviour on our beaches including littering, irresponsible use of disposable barbecues and so on. Surfers, swimmers and anglers will all want a piece of the shore for themselves. Competition between competing recreation interests for limited resources is nothing new and will continue.

Given the value of beaches to Cornish communities and the tourism industry, I’m mystified why there appears to be no high profile strategic deployment of agencies to encourage and ensure, responsible, environmentally conscientious behaviour by all beach users. 

Call me cynical, but there doesn’t seem to be a problem with deploying staff to ensure compliance with car park tolls or the installation of the ubiquitous charging tariffs and ‘Have You Paid & Displayed?’ signs.

Perhaps it’s time to try a different approach. One which invites creative thinking and seeks innovative problem solving approaches towards encouraging responsible behaviour with, in reserve, a mandate for robust enforcement action for those who need it. 

Next Steps

The Cornwall Council public consultation concerning dogs on beaches is now live! It started on 27 August and runs until 19 November 2019.

Whatever your point of view you can find out more and participate in the survey by clicking on this link!