Mouldon Hill Country Park in North Swindon is proving to be an extremely popular destination for dog-walking, cycling, and horse-riding, and is set to become even busier once the Blunsdon to Cricklade railway is extended into the park this summer.
However its popularity and proximity to land occupied by livestock is leading to over-crowding and dangerous threats to farm animals, horses and dogs.
Dog owners and walkers in the area are being strongly urged to keep their dogs under close control after sheep and cows on Pry Holdings farm, just over the boundary with Mouldon Hill, have been attacked and killed.
Farm owners Tim and Christine Handy lost a newly lambed ewe to dog attack on 13 March, only to have seven cows attacked by three bull terriers 11 days later. The husky that killed the sheep has since been destroyed, while the bull terrier attack is still under police investigation.
“My family has farmed here since 1963 and in the last three years we’ve had more dog attacks than ever before,” said Tim.
“I don’t think people who go to Mouldon Hill realise that the park butts up against farmland,” he said. “They let their dogs off the lead and before they realise it they’re off into the field.”
“I don’t mind people walking in the area. There are a number of public rights of way across our land, which are very well maintained by Purton Parish Council, and are all clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps. People need to be made more aware of their responsibilities when walking their dogs in the open countryside.”
Whilst the farm is within the jurisdiction of Wiltshire County Council, its land borders onto the Swindon Borough Council owned park. Despite having spoken to SBC and the Woodland Trust, and had their assistance in putting up fences and signs to warn people off the farmland, Tim has found many of these barriers and notices vandalised and torn up within days of being erected.
Tim said: “I understand that more and more leisure space is needed, but if people want to be surrounded by farmland rather than having more houses built they need to be prepared to respect the livestock on the land.”
Reflecting on the popularity of the park and the plans to extend the Blunsdon to Cricklade railway into the park this summer, Christine said: “The problem has worsened since the car park opened at Mouldon Hill last year. I don’t know how dog owners are going to manage when there’s a train running through the park too.”
According to the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act of 1953 a dog owner is liable if his pet is found to be worrying livestock; and the Animals Act of 1971 provides a defence for livestock owners to destroy a dog which is found to be worrying livestock on their land, providing they report the incident to the police within 48 hours.
A further problem is the over-crowding of the bridleway running around the park, which have been tarmaced by Swindon Borough Council and are now used as much by families walking dogs, pushing prams and cycling as by horse-riders.
In a letter to Link magazine horse-rider Michelle Phillips who regularly exercises her horse in the Mouldon Hill area said: “I spent most of 2010 and 2011 being chased by out of control dogs which caused my horse to spin and bolt away from the dog. My biggest fear is that one day my horse will spin and bolt straight into an oncoming push chair or child on a scooter or bike.”