A group of dog walkers enjoying a stroll on the forest

Dogs are very welcome on Ashdown Forest and it is a wonderful place to walk with your dog, however, we do have some simple rules and regulations that we ask all dog walkers to adhere to. Responsible dog ownership ensures that dogs will remain welcome on Ashdown Forest.

Every year there are instances of dogs attacking, mauling or chasing sheep on the Forest (including sheep being killed) and numerous complaints about the behaviour of dogs. We are very keen to hear about, and have a record of, any occurrences that you may come across when you’re out and about on the Forest. The sort of thing we are interested in hearing about are: dogs attacking or chasing livestock or deer; dogs attacking or frightening other dogs; barking at, chasing or frightening horses; dogs frightening people; dogs disturbing wildlife (especially ground-nesting birds); and dogs not under proper control. If you see anything like this please call the office 01342 823583 or email [email protected]

The 4 Cs

Where can you walk on Ashdown Forest?

This section will give you advice on how to keep your dog safe and happy, have a relaxing time yourself and help to protect this beautiful, rare landscape and the animals and birds that live here! You can walk anywhere on the Forest and leaflets and maps to help you are available from the Forest Centre. For the sake of the Forest, its livestock, wildlife and other users, please follow the advice in this leaflet. If you want to exercise your dog far more freely, please consider alternative locations.

Your dog and the protection of ground nesting birds

Ashdown Forest is home to many bird species; some are rare and those that nest on the ground, such as the Nightjar, are particularly vulnerable. Your dog can cause damage by running loose through the heather even if it is not actually attacking or chasing birds. Parent birds can be frightened from their nest letting eggs or young get cold making them vulnerable to predators. Landowners can, on application, be granted legal powers to exclude dogs from some 'open access land', such as heathland. We do not wish to exclude dogs from Ashdown Forest but do ask all dog owners to help us protect wildlife by keeping their dogs under close control, preferably on a lead, when walking in heathland.

Your dog and adders

Ashdown Forest has a large population of adders, Britain's only venomous snake. A bite from an adder can make your dog seriously ill and potentially kill. Adders become active in early spring as the days begin to warm up. You can find them basking in the sun on open earth. They are very easily stepped on and, because they are cold, they move slowly and are likely to bite in-order to defend themselves. In the height of summer adders are warm so they can move away from potential threats. They can sense the vibrations from footfall, however, a fast moving dog can still be bitten. Never, ever touch an adder.

Your dog near sheep and cattle

The 550 hectare grazing area between the A22 and the B2026 is fully fenced and accessed through cattle grids or gates. Very clear signs on roadsides and gates warn of the presence of livestock. Sheep and cows are very widely spread across this section of the Forest from April until November. You are welcome to walk here during the grazing season but dogs MUST be kept under close control at all times, preferably on a lead. Every year animals are horribly mauled and killed by out of control dogs - many of whom are 'family pets'. If you are not sure where the grazing area is, a map is available from the Forest Centre to help you.

Livestock may see your dog as a threat, even if it is not. Cows may act defensively, especially if they have calves to protect. The National Farmers Union have issued the following advice to walkers:

  • Try not to get between cows and their calves
  • Be prepared for cattle to react to your presence especially if you have a dog with you
  • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd
  • Keep your dog under close and effective control
  • Don't hang on to your dog. If you are threatened by cattle, let go of the lead as the cattle will chase the dog
  • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle
  • Don't panic or run! Most cattle will stop before they reach you
  • If they follow just walk on quietly
  • Remember people have been killed by cows in the last few years!

Never, ever, let your dog chase sheep

Grazing is one of the most effective ways to conserve heathland. Ashdown Forest now has its own flock of Hebridean sheep busy grazing right across the Forest. Please look out for the warning signs posted in the nearest car park and on the main rides closest to the area being grazed to give you an opportunity to put your dog on a lead or change your route. When approaching the flock please put your dog on a lead. The Hebridean (black) sheep are enclosed behind electric fences – please make sure you and your dog stay away from the fences and do not touch the fence – you will get a nasty shock.

We know from experience that the most friendly and placid of family pets can become a killer once instinct takes over and the chase is on. Dogs can kill sheep or inflict appalling injuries on them. Even if your dog does not catch or bite the stress of being chased can be catastrophic. Pregnant ewes can abort their lambs; sheep can panic and run into fences at speed resulting in broken necks. Sheep have been chased across the road narrowly avoiding a serious road traffic accident. A farmer can legally shoot a dog worrying livestock - it's really not worth the risk - so protect your dog, and your peace of mind, by keeping it on a lead near livestock.

Be horse aware and people aware

There are over 400 permitted riders on Ashdown Forest (some of whom are children) so the chance of meeting a horse and rider is quite high. Horses can be spooked and can bolt and buck causing the rider to fall and sustain serious injuries. Recently a dog owner who allowed her dog to chase a horse was taken to court and successfully sued. A kick from a frightened horse can easily kill a dog so please look, and listen, out for horses. Put your dog on a lead until they have passed and you are sure your dog will not chase.

The Forest is enjoyed by great numbers of people. Some, however, either do not like dogs or are frightened by them, especially children and the elderly who can topple over when dogs jump up.

Your dog and deer

Ashdown Forest has a large population of wild deer. Never allow your dog to chase them; they are fast and can cover long distances. Since you are never very far from a road on the Forest, the possibility of chasing a deer onto a road and causing a serious accident is quite high. If you see deer in the distance - please, for the safety of your dog, the deer and drivers put your dog on a lead.

Please clean up after your pet

Dog mess is not only really horrible, it can cause serious infections. Please carry dog 'poo' bags with you and clear up, especially around rides where people walk and areas where children play and families have picnics. The media reported recently that a child was blinded by toxocariasis. We don't have dog bins on the Forest due to the excessive cost, so please take it away with you. Most dog walkers are only a few minutes from home and double bagged poo in the boot or hanging from the tail gate is only a very minor inconvenience. Please don't leave bags on the ground, throw them into bushes or hang them from trees!

Lost dogs...don't panic

Unfortunately owners lose their dogs on the Forest only too regularly. If you need to report a lost dog please call the office and give a description, location and contact numbers. If you have lost your dog in the grazing area please call us at once. We will alert Forest staff to keep a look out as they go about their duties. Most lost dogs are quickly reunited with their owners. The law says all dogs must wear a collar and 'id' tag when in a public place and failure to do so could lead to a £5,000 fine - it also helps the Forest staff, animal wardens and the vets when a dog is found. Ideally all dogs should be micro-chipped and vets and animal wardens now routinely scan animals.

You are also advised to telephone the Wealden Animal Wardens (private company) on 0845 2417253 and the Police on their non-emergency number 0845 6070999.

Dogs and the Law

In England, the public have open access to 3,269 sq miles where most activities can take place, however, there are special rules for dog walkers which require dogs be kept on a lead of no more than 2 metres long between 1st March and 31st July - the main breeding period for ground-nesting birds or at any time of the year near livestock. Leads are specified as even the best trained dog may become unresponsive. Please see the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 about the control of dogs on common land which can be found be clicking here.

Every year Ashdown Forest sheep are attacked and seriously maimed or often killed by dogs that are out of control on the Forest. A farmer has the right to shoot dogs seen attacking their sheep and will not hesitate to do so.

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