Aspley Off Lead!

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Read on if you believe that:

  1. Dogs are inquisitive, curious, social animals who need regular off-lead exercise
  2. Most dog owners are responsible people who keep their dogs under control
  3. 800 acres is enough to accommodate cyclists, horse riders AND dog walkers
  4. A blanket ban on off-lead dogs is unjustified, unreasonable and unenforceable
  5. Off-lead access throughout Aspley Woods should be restored, in line with the current access agreement

In September 2018, Bedford Estates (on behalf of the Duke of Bedford) required that all dogs at Aspley Woods should be kept on-lead at all times throughout all 800 acres of the woods other than public rights of way. This is a departure from the 2011 access agreement, which requires only that dogs should be “under control”.

Misleading signage was put up, wrongly referring to dog control orders. The signage may be changed, but the ban on off-lead dogs remains in place. Bedford Estates has argued that the ban is required for “consistency of policy” across their various estates. These include houses and flats in Bloomsbury, Woburn Abbey and Woburn Safari Park.

The ban brings to an end generations of off-lead dog-walking. It is forcing local people to drive their dogs further afield to more welcoming areas. It jeopardises footfall in local businesses that benefit from passing dog-walker trade. It raises a question about public benefit for the annual £50k subsidy to the estate (through its funding of access and conservation via The Greensand Trust) from Milton Keynes and Central Bedfordshire Councils.

A ban on off-lead dogs is virtually unenforceable. There are 800 acres, with multiple entrances that have been used by local dog-walkers all day, every day. Two rangers are available to police the ban, diverting their time from essential conservation work. The ban has generated significant local disquiet and disrupted long-standing freedoms. It makes Woburn and surrounding areas less attractive for visitors.

To encourage a return to the 2011 requirement of “dogs under control”, dog-walkers have offered a code of conduct for dog-walkers, and to mobilise volunteers to help support the rangers. We have also proposed a zoning arrangement, common in other estates, which would provide dog-free areas for cyclists, and cycle-free areas for dog-walkers.

Ignoring these proposals, Bedford Estates remains unwilling to revert to the access agreement they signed, with its simple requirement that dogs must be “under control”. This petition offers an opportunity for local people to register their views, and help to influence a change of heart. It is one of a number of approaches in our campaign.