“Nature reserves are special places for nature conservation, where wildlife and fragile habitats are protected. Obviously poo is a part of nature, but dog poo contains nutrients which can damage the ecology of vulnerable habitats. Wherever you walk your dog, it is important to pick up, bag and bin poo, to ensure the continued protection of these wild areas for us all to enjoy.”
These words came from Rob Stoneman, director of landscape recovery at The Wildlife Trusts, UK. A new study has alarmed environmentalists about the adverse effects of letting dogs relieve themselves in natural environments and leaving their poop behind.
The study was conducted near Ghent in Belgium, covering four sites in peri-urban nature reserves not very far away from the city center. There, owners are allowed to take their dogs for walks without prohibitions on dog pooping and urinating.
It was observed that 1,629 dogs could yield a yearly average of 11 kilograms of nitrogen and 5 kilograms of phosphorous per hectare. These could cause extreme concentrations of nutrients in the soil that could impact the diverse wildlife that the environment supports.
“We were surprised by how high the nutrient inputs from dogs could be,” said Professor Pieter De Frenne of Ghent University, the study’s lead researcher. “Atmospheric nitrogen inputs from agriculture, industry and traffic rightfully receive a lot of policy attention, but dogs are entirely neglected in this respect.”
One of the possible impacts of over-fertilization in nature reserves is vegetation overgrowth with a dominance of nutrient-demanding plant species. These plants can cause the death of other flora species by depriving them of sunlight, resulting in homogenization.
These adverse effects must be prevented, according to Professor De Frenne. “An important first step is making dog owners aware of this fertilisation effect. I think many people will just pick up the faeces.”
But the problem with dog urine will remain; that is why the professor has been also telling nature reserve managers who are taking care of areas with sensitive ecosystems to consider banning dogs. This kind of precautionary measure is already being implemented in some parts of the world for wildlife protection.
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