DOGS may soon have to be kept on leads in the nature reserve of Stanpit Marsh in Christchurch following the results of a public consultation.

Local residents and organisations were asked for their opinions on the nature reserve’s draft management plan, which lays out hopes to maintain the SSSi (Site of Special Scientific Interest) land, earlier this year.

Out of the 220 responses to the plan, 89 per cent were in broad support of the main objectives and actions for each of the features of the reserve.

But 78 per cent of the responses expressed strong concern that the plan did not properly acknowledge the impact of human activities, including dog walkers, dogs and watercraft, on the wildlife.

While it was accepted that Christchurch Borough Council had made progress in reducing the disturbance through discussions with anglers, bird watchers and sailing groups, many felt that the perceived problem of dogs running freely had not been addressed as successfully.

Nearly 80 per cent felt that a practical solution to this was a dog on lead policy within the nature reserve, with 65 per cent of those people wanting to see a change in the existing byelaw, which is ambiguously only described as “proper control”.

Many people also suggested that dogs should be allowed to run freely off their leads on the recreation ground, but be kept restrained within the SSSi.

Councillors on the community services committee at Christchurch council welcomed the report on the sensitive habitat, labelling the area the “jewel in the crown of Christchurch”.

They agreed to resolve the issue of dog walking by consulting with residents about amending the existing byelaw to phase in the enforcement of dogs on leads at all times within the reserve alongside improvements to the rec.