North London public garden to have new ‘keeper’ enforcing dog-walking rules

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A ‘keeper’ enforcing the laws around dog walking will soon be patrolling an Islington public garden in a bid to tackle rising numbers of poor behaviour. The City of London Corporation voted unanimously to back the new role to ‘promote responsible dog ownership’, with an initial focus on Bunhill Fields Burial Ground.

This comes after a report by the Corporation detailed worsening dog-related issues across the City Garden sites, primarily in Smithfield Rotunda and St Barts the Great as well as Bunhill Fields, “prompting the need to consider more proactive measures”.

According to the report, City gardeners had recorded 191 incidents over the last year alone, consisting of 167 cases of dogs being off their leads, 22 for dog mess, and two for digging holes.

At this morning’s Natural Environment Board meeting (February 19), Jake Tibbetts, City Gardens Manager, clarified the additional powers would be granted to a current gardener, and would not involve the hiring of a new employee.

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Cllr Eamonn Mullally welcomed the recommendation, though pushed on whether more funding should be provided to ensure the position is properly resourced. “I think the funding should perhaps be more than we’ve got,” he said. “I understand there’s constrained budgets elsewhere, but I still think this is really worth it.”

Mr Tibbetts said the role would be monitored on an ongoing basis, and that it is expected the need for enforcement would lessen over time as people become more accustomed to the rules.

“I think in reality what will happen at Bunhill is once we have a keeper in post there will be a period of time when there will be a large focus of that officer’s time on getting on top of this, about building relationships with dog owners, about changing the way that people perceive the fields and how the fields work.”

Deputy Chair of the Board, Cllr Andrew McMurtrie, said he also welcomes ‘the direction of travel’ indicated by the recommendation. However, he warned that, initially at least, this is likely to be a tough front-line role which will require proper enforcement, joking that he hopes ‘they’re trained in self-defence’.

The Corporation’s report detailed the estimated cost of the ‘keeper’ at around £7,500 per year. It also recommended exploring using Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs), which can be introduced to help manage issues affecting public spaces. Both recommendations were passed unanimously by the board members.

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