Unfortunately dogs are not allowed in almost all areas of the heritage centre site (with the exception of assistance dogs). There are a number of reasons for this. The area around the Nunckley Trail is one of the most ecologically diverse, yet accessible, areas in Leicestershire. The trail has been very carefully designed to allow visitors to see and experience the array of wildlife without negatively impacting on it. We have worked with a number of wildlife organisations to achieve this. The presence of ground and low nesting birds, badger setts, rabbit burrows and numerous habitat areas, close to the trail path, mean that an inquisitive dog could cause a considerable amount of wildlife damage in only a few minutes. This is why dogs have never been allowed around the trail right from when the heritage centre first opened. In those early days we did allow dogs to venture down to the station area but there were clear signs saying not to take them on to the trail. What we found though was that many visitors with dogs were ignoring the signs and still took their dogs onto the trail. As expected, this did cause damage, which has taken a long time for our volunteers to repair. We also found that we were having dog mess left in the old quarry area and around the trail, either directly on the ground or being bagged and thrown into bushes. In late autumn 2016 as the leaves dropped, these hanging bags became very apparent. In view of these problems, when we came to opening up the second trail, Railway museum and all the other new areas of the site at Easter 2017, we had to take the decision to not allow dogs to go anywhere beyond the Granite’s patio area. We looked at creating dog zones, but it would be too difficult for visitors to understand where they could and couldn’t go. We explored a variety of other potential ways of addressing the problem, but none were workable given our limited financial and volunteer resources.
The reason that dogs are not allowed inside the heritage centre building itself is down to hygiene. It’s a compact area that gets very busy. Whilst most dogs are very clean, some we see have been on adventurous walks. The first thing a wet dog often does when it comes into a dry warm building is to shake itself and no one would like that right next to their table whilst they are eating their lunch. We do welcome well behaved dogs on the patio area. There isn’t the same confined space there and dogs can be placed where they don’t negatively impact the enjoyment of other visitors. We recognise that the patio is a lovely location to stop off for ice cream or coffee after you’ve been out for a walk with your dog on a pleasant summer afternoon. You can come in through the side gate next to the bridge and are directly onto the patio.
We love dogs, most of our volunteers have dogs of their own. They are not compatible though with the fragile habitats that exist in the super eco rich areas around the nature trails. The vast majority of dog owners are responsible, will follow signage and do clean up after their dogs. We do seem to have experienced a much higher proportion of the not so responsible owners though and it’s these that we have to focus on when setting the rules for the site. Many dog owners are disappointed that they can’t visit the trails and it’s often difficult to explain the reasons why, so we hope this post will raise awareness of the difficulties we’ve faced. The benefits to visitors overall though, is that the site provides a clean environment where visitors and their children can come without having to worry about potentially stepping in something unpleasant. There are many hundreds of walks and venues in Leicestershire. Each venue has different circumstances to consider when setting their access rules for dogs. The problems we’ve experienced mean that at the heritage centre site, we can’t allow dogs anywhere besides the Granite’s patio.