Dog-walkers are set to be banned from letting their pets off leads at a popular beauty spot – despite fears the rule will only be enforced “once in a blue moon”.
Councillors have backed plans to issue people with £100 fines for allowing their pooches to wander freely through Long Rock in Swalecliffe, near Whitstable.
It comes after concerns were raised by nature lovers that out-of-control canines had been seen chasing and injuring wildlife in the protected area.
And during last week's community committee meeting, Seasalter councillor Ashley Clark claimed irresponsible dog owners have even encouraged their pets to “flush birds out”.
“It’s a special area. I know for a fact bird-watchers gather there to have a look at different species, some quite rare,” the Conservative said.
“It’s also inhabited by water voles - again, an endangered species.
“What has taken place there is people have allowed their dogs off leads to go into the sensitive area. Others have acted very irresponsibly and actually encouraged their dogs to flush birds out.”
Long Rock is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Ramsar site, which is a wetland of international importance, particularly for its role as a waterfowl habitat.
And Cllr Clark told members that imposing the public space protection order (PSPO), forcing dogs to remain on leads, is the authority’s “only option” to protect the area’s habitats.
He said efforts to fence off the most sensitive parts of Long Rock would take at least three years, as a number of the public rights of way would have to be changed beforehand.
“Canis familiaris is not an endangered species, but some of the species we’ve got at Long Rock are and do need protecting,” Cllr Clark added.
“We’ve got to have an order for dogs to be on a lead until we can come up with another solution.”
Proposals to impose the ban garnered 161 responses from residents, with more than two-thirds opposed. A petition launched by locals against the plan was also signed by 74 people.
Tankerton councillor Neil Baker (Con) voiced fears that “nobody would end up happy” if the PSPO was introduced.
“The dog-walkers will be upset, those who don’t care will still go there and once in a blue moon there may be someone there giving them a ticket,” he explained.
“The people who want this brought in will be annoyed because they will still see the same number of dogs being walked off leads, with nothing being done about it.
"I would be far more comfortable if the various organisations at play here sat down, looked at the problem and found a solution.”
Cllr Mel Dawkins (Lab) called for signs to be erected in Long Rock urging visitors to put their dogs on leads to protect the wildlife.
She argued it would be the cheapest and “most sensible” approach and, if the problem continued to persist in a year’s time, the authority could introduce stricter measures.
Despite this, members recommended the restrictions be introduced. City council chief executive Colin Carmichael will sign off on the final PSPOs.