Badenoch and Strathspey, within the Cairngorms National Park, is home to over 6,200 resident dogs and around 150,000 visiting dogs each year. The area is also home to 80% of the UK capercaillie population.
Research shows that being able to exercise dogs off-lead is the single most important requirement for people walking dogs and that dog walkers specifically seek places for off-lead activity. This can cause capercaillie to avoid areas of good habitat, thereby limiting the amount of space they have to live.
Research also shows that people with dogs are a greater cause of disturbance to wildlife than people alone, and that lone dogs can flush birds 100% of the time. This can cause birds unnecessary stress; force them to leave their nests in the case of ground-nesting birds like capercaillie; and can separate mothers from their dependent young. Work with the dog walking community is therefore an essential part of helping capercaillie and other wildlife to thrive in the Cairngorms.
In 2022, canine professionals in Badenoch and Strathspey including dog walkers, trainers, breeders, vets, groomers, people who work dogs professionally and use assistance dogs, were asked to share their views about exercising dogs in Badenoch and Strathspey. You can read a summary of their views here: Dog walking community listening sessions summary
Their views were used to create an online survey for the wider dog walking community to complete. 265 people who own dogs or have a connection to dogs in Badenoch and Strathspey shared their views through the online survey. You can read a summary of the survey results here: Dog walking community online survey results
The online survey results were used to identify areas of common ground, and a series of facilitated workshops were held for resident dog walkers in Badenoch and Strathspey to identify and prioritise actions based on those areas of common ground.
Through the workshops the following vision was developed: Dog friendly Cairngorms where wildlife can thrive. To achieve this vision, the following actions were identified:
Create and develop free dog walking spaces in Badenoch and Strathspey, ideally in woodlands and accessible on foot from communities, to meet the needs of dogs and their owners away from sensitive areas for wildlife.
Build knowledge around capercaillie by developing an active community of dog owners in Badenoch and Strathspey with information and understanding at its heart.
The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project is committed to enabling the dog walking community in Badenoch and Strathspey to make as much progress as possible towards the vision of a ‘dog friendly Cairngorms where wildlife can thrive’. Once the project ends, the Cairngorms National Park Authority will continue to support work towards this vision. Before then, the project will undertake the steps outlined in the document linked below.
Events and activities
Dog owners and commercial dog walker in Badenoch and Strathspey were invited to join an online event on Wednesday 6 December to find out about a pilot approach designed to help dog owners and their dogs enjoy the amazing place we live, whilst also giving capercaillie the space they need too.
The slides from the event are here: dog walking community information session
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