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As highlighted in the Spring Journal (Nunhead Cemetery News 25 ‘Barking Mad’) Southwark Council has now begun its consultation on ‘how we can reduce dog related anti-social (ASB) behaviour within Southwark’.This will be a highly contentious issue that directly affects Nunhead cemetery. It is important that all FONC members make their views known before the deadline of 5th. June as simply the number of responses received will influence the outcome. The survey can be accessed at: https://consultations.southwark.gov.uk/environment-leisure/lets-talk-about-dogs

In the last few years the FONC Committee has seen the issue of dogs in the cemetery becoming more and more problematic. FONC is not seeking a ban on dogs in the cemetery but rather that all dogs should be kept on leads at all times and in all parts of the cemetery and that dog-walkers should be limited to no more than four dogs at a time. Let us explain why we have adopted this position.

In the past FONC has been dog tolerant. Of course, when operated by the London Cemetery Company and its successors, dogs were simply not permitted to enter the cemetery at all. However, since its acquisition by the London Borough of Southwark, whilst the policy towards dogs in the cemetery has been inconsistent, there has never been an outright ban in place. Since its formation in 1981, FONC has taken the view that owners exercising their dogs responsibly in the cemetery were welcome. This was because in the early days we were keen to encourage such visitors since the cemetery had been largely shunned by the public and dog-walkers went some way to discouraging vandals and other unwelcome visitors from anti-social behaviour. At the same time we encouraged owners to act responsibly by not allowing their dogs to run riot and certainly not to defecate on graves. Our policy of education of owners led to dogs largely being kept on leads except where they could be trusted to respond to owners’ commands and with most owners bagging and removing their pet’s faeces.

More recently, however, the situation appears to have changed radically. Whilst there continues to be a majority of responsible dog owners properly enjoying the cemetery whom we have no wish to restrict unnecessarily, FONC believes that action is now needed to address the growing number of less welcome dogs and their owners/walkers. Our concerns are:

  • As dog control orders have been introduced in neighbouring Boroughs, notably Lewisham, dog owners have sought other open spaces to exercise their dogs where no controls exist. This has led to a very great increase in the numbers using Nunhead Cemetery for such purposes;
  • Many of these ‘new’ dog walkers show no respect for the cemetery as a rather different area from the usual parks and open spaces. They freely allow their pets to run over graves and defecate without discrimination;
  • There are now significant numbers of so-called ‘commercial’ dog walkers using the cemetery as a facility. The more dogs such people have, the more they earn. Many arrive in large vehicles advertising their businesses and bring as many as six to eight dogs at a time. They allow such dogs to run free and, as the dogs are less familiar with the walkers than they are with their owners, they often have very little control over these animals. The tranquillity of the cemetery is constantly disturbed by the fraught calls of the walkers to which the animals pay no attention whatsoever. In addition, they cannot see where every dog is at all times leading to many dog faeces not being cleared up;
  • Dogs in such packs present a real threat not only to wildlife but more importantly to people, particularly young children, who perhaps have little experience of dogs or who have a real fear of such animals. There have been several instances lately where young children have been knocked over by dogs. Even dogs kept on leads have been seen to jump up at children causing considerable distress. Owners are often heard to say “Oh, they are quite friendly and won’t bite” which is of little comfort to the child or parents. Given the muddy state of the cemetery in winter, having muddy paw marks on one’s clothes is equally unwelcome. Lately there have been incidents of dogs attacking and biting visitors with the risk of future serious injury. This is absolutely unacceptable. This is not to mention the occasion where our Coordinator literally had to prise a dog away from the throat of a cat it had virtually killed whilst the dog owner stood by helplessly;
  • We are aware that there have been an increasing number of complaints from those visiting recent interments in the cemetery about the incidence of dogs running loose in the vicinity of those interments;
  • The increase in numbers is having a notably detrimental effect on the resident and visiting wildlife in the cemetery. The whole site is a designated Nature Reserve but with no informative signage few dog walkers seem to appreciate this. FONC has monitored the variety and numbers of wildlife for many years and we are convinced that both have decreased significantly over the last couple of years. This is particularly noticeable for mammals. Disturbance of wildlife and their habitat is marked;
  • The excess of dogs seems to have reduced the number of other visitors during week days, particularly parents with young children;
  • Increasingly when FONC members have tried to approach owners to point out the need to respect the cemetery, its visitors and its wildlife they have been met with sometimes quite aggressive abuse, particularly from the ‘commercial’ dog walkers.

We recognise that some will feel that responsible owners would be unfairly penalised as a result of introducing such restrictions. Unfortunately this is a case of the minority spoiling it for others. It is likely, too, that FONC may lose members as a result of the position we are taking. However, we firmly believe that responsible dog-owners and other visitors to the cemetery will understand the need for such restrictions. The consultation being undertaken by Southwark covers the whole of the Borough and asks a number of questions. The FONC Committee would urge all members to:

  • Agree strongly with question 1 (about dog mess);
  • Agree strongly with question 3 (dogs on leads in cemeteries);
  • Disagree with question 4 (banning dogs from cemeteries);
  • Agree strongly with question 6 (limiting dogs to four per walker in cemeteries);
  • Add any comments for questions 11 and 12 highlighting your concerns with regard to Nunhead cemetery.

Please encourage as many of your friends and relatives as possible to respond as well. It is not necessary to be a Southwark resident to express your views. Any FONC members unable to participate in an on-line survey can contact the Coordinator for help in getting your views submitted to Southwark. The pro-dog walking lobby will be strong – the contrary view must be heard in large numbers so do encourage others to support the FONC position.


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Friends of Nunhead Cemetery (FONC)
Established 1981 - Registered charity number 296413

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