In September 2018, Bedford Estates, on behalf of the landowner, the Duke of Bedford, required that all dogs using Aspley Woods should be kept on-lead at all times, backtracking on a 2011 requirement that dogs should be kept under control.
This means that 800 acres the woods are now largely denied to dogs for off-lead exercise, with the only off-lead areas being access to a few public rights of way (marked in red on this image). The estate initially erected signs stating that the woods are subject to a Dog Control Order which is not the case. Bedford Estates states that the about-turn is required for “consistency of policy” across their estates. Given that the estate properties include most of Bloomsbury and Russell Square in central London, Woburn Abbey and Woburn Deer Park and a golf course, consistency is hardly possible, even if it were desirable.
The current Duke of Bedford. Andrew Ian Henry Russell is heir to two family companies as well as Woburn Abbey and grounds valued at £150 million. His extensive art collection includes 24 Canalettos and paintings by Canal which alone are valued at £450 million. Not content with riches beyond most people’s wildest dreams, the estate sucks in a £50,000 annual subsidy from Milton Keynes and Central Bedfordshire Councils for funding access and conservation via The Greensand Trust. Milton Keynes council has proposed severe budget cuts for the forthcoming financial year including ceasing funding to the Citizens Advice Service and Community Action MK and cutting the funds to the YMCA and Age UK Milton Keynes. The latter would lose £300,000 which currently funds luncheon clubs and home visiting services. Central Bedfordshire Council have pledge to make £14.8 million of “efficiencies” in addition to the £43 million cuts implemented between 2015 and 2018. Yet both councils are still prepared to subsidise an aristocrat who is wealthier than the queen.
The only possible “justification” for this is for providing public access to estate lands; which is now being curtailed for dog walkers.
The ban brings to an end generations of access for off-lead walking in Apsley woods. It adds to traffic nuisance as locals drive their dogs to more welcoming areas and may mean that the additional journey time involved leads to shorter walks for the dogs. Many businesses that benefit from trade garnered from people walking dogs, whether they be local regulars or visitors. off-lead dog walking in attractive areas providing other dog-friendly facilities is a major draw. Owners can take turns to look after a dog in a dog-friendly cafe or on an off-lead walk while the other looks round a stately home. A good day out is had by all and the estate maximises its revenue. Win-win all round. Given than approximately 25% of people in the UK own a dog, restricting access cuts off a large source of potential revenue at time when few businesses can guarantee to thrive. Uncertainty over the situation with PETS passports may already have led to fewer dog owners deciding to take a holiday abroad with their dog; providing more opportunities for an interesting “staycation” would seem to be a no-brainer.
Locals feel that a ban on off-lead dogs is virtually unenforceable across 800 acres with multiple entrances. Just two rangers patrol the area and would be far better off spending their time in conservation work. Local dog-walkers have produced and publicised a code of conduct and have offered to mobilise volunteers to support the rangers in policing it. They have also proposed a zoning arrangement, which is common in other estates, and which would provide dog-free areas for other users and also ensure that cyclists do not menace dogs.
Bedford Estates has ignored the proposals and is unwilling to revert to the access agreement signed previously requiring that dogs must be under control when off-lead.
Please sign the petition so that dog owners can continue to enjoy facilities to which they, after all, contribute as tax payers.
Keep up to date with the campaign progress: a threat to one is a threat to all. You may never visit Apsley woods but once this sort of discirminatory precedent is set, it spreads and can have a massive impact on canine welfare. Tomorrow it may be your favourite dog-walking area under threat.
Thanks to Mike Daly of Aspley Off Lead.