May 18, 2023

Doggone it!

Doggoneit (880 × 509 Px)

Dogs are disturbing migratory birds feeding on our estuary – birds like the banded dotterel and the bar-tailed godwit need all the food they can consume for their mammoth migratory journeys.  It’s time to stop the dogs chasing birds, doggone it!

A dog running free and enjoying the outdoors is every dog-owners wish.  After all, a tired dog is a good dog – it certainly makes for a quieter dog, at least.  Dog exercise areas are great, as far as they go, but nothing beats the open space on our foreshores for exercise, both for dogs and for owners.

Speaking of the foreshore, our Avon-Heathcote estuary is particularly special, by the way. It is the only urban wetland in Australasia to be part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Network, a collection of 151 wetlands in twenty countries used by migratory birds either on their way to or from the Arctic; something of which we should be proud.

In the past, most of us have not really worried about dogs chasing birds – it has seemed like part of the natural order of things.  So what has changed?  Two things otherwise unrelated have changed, significantly.

First, the number of dogs has increased. Just counting registered dogs, in 2013, there were 34,072 in Christchurch, but by 2022 that had swelled by over 13% to more than 43,500. Just about everyone has noticed the increased number of dogs, and their poo, everywhere.

Second, there is increased awareness in the environmental community of the fragility of our ecosystems in a time of climate change-induced stresses. Extreme and extended La Nina weather patterns, melting of polar ice caps and warming of the seas are just some of the more obvious symptoms of a system in the process of change.  Animal species that depend on seasonal feeding patterns of abundance induced by climate and currents find it increasingly difficult to locate adequate amounts of food.  

It seems bizarre that stopping dogs from chasing birds on beaches and mudflats should be part of a climate change response…but it is directly related. When a dog chases birds away from feeding, it reduces their time to feed.  If it happens once in a day, it might not be significant.  But when food is scarce, can only be gathered at low tide and the disturbance occurs multiple times a day, it can add up over a season to insufficient nutrient intake to enable successful breeding and/or migratory flight.

Dogs chasing birds

Greater emphasis in signage on the WHY leashing is vital may improve compliance.

What can be done?  All the usual things: it needs more and better signs explaining the issues, wider and better education of the general public especially leading up to and during the season when birds are feeding/breeding in the estuary, and greater active enforcement during this season by well-trained CCC staff.  

The City Council is currently upgrading its dog-control by-laws, but these are really only backstop measures. Having an educated population of dog owners who understand the issues and who are provided with timely reminders is the best way of bringing about change in dog management along our foreshores.

By-laws can then be reserved for the deliberately non-compliant, of which there are always a few to spoil it for the rest!