Charity walker picks up 88lb of dog poo to protect rare habitat

A charity hiker collected more than 88lb (40kg) of dog poo during a 65-mile (105km) sponsored walk in a national park in a bid to help protect the fragile wildlife haven.

Henry Rawlings picked up and bagged hundreds of piles of dog mess while trekking the Serpent Trail, which runs from Haslemere, Surrey, to Petersfield, Hampshire, in the South Downs National Park.

Olivia French, of Heathlands Reunited, with charity walker Henry Rawlings on the Serpent Trail (South Downs National Park/PA)
Olivia French, of Heathlands Reunited, with charity walker Henry Rawlings on the Serpent Trail (South Downs National Park/PA)

The 46-year-old, from Storrington, West Sussex, said he decided to clear up the poos left behind by “disrespectful” dog owners in order to help protect the habitat.

The four-day hike took Mr Rawlings through heathlands which are considered one of the rarest habitats in the world, providing a home for creatures such as sand lizards, smooth snakes, silver-studded blue butterflies and Dartford warblers.

Mr Rawlings said: “I couldn’t help but notice the amount of dog poo that had been left, so I decided to tidy those areas up. I thought collecting the dog poo would make the fundraiser a bit more of a challenge, as well as help protect the habitat.

“I lost count of the number of poos I scooped up but I reckon it was well over 40kg in total.

“I think not picking up dog poo is disrespectful to other people and the countryside. Not only is there the hygiene element, there are also health risks for humans and creatures alike.

“It’s not difficult to pick and bag, and even take home if there is no bin available.”

Stedham Common in West Sussex is one of the best examples of scarce heathland habitat (Sam Moore/South Downs National Park/PA)
Stedham Common in West Sussex is one of the best examples of scarce heathland habitat (Sam Moore/South Downs National Park/PA)

Olivia French, engagement officer for Heathlands Reunited, which is working to conserve and enhance the habitat, said dog excrement can upset the nutrient balance of the soils.

She said: “Heathlands are an incredibly specialist habitat that have developed over thousands of years and are rarer than the rainforest.

“It’s actually the nutrient-poor soil that has led to this incredible biodiversity because there’s not one single plant species that can dominate the landscape.

“Introducing an outside influence such as dog poo changes the nutrient profile of the soil and this can then have a harmful impact on this very fragile wildlife haven.

“When you have hundreds of these dog poos scattered across the landscape, you can imagine the cumulative damage this could cause over several years.

“Dog poo, in particular, contains bacteria that can be extremely harmful to grazing livestock such as belted Galloways, which graze areas along the Serpent Trail to support conservation efforts.

“If there’s no bin, the message is simple: bag it and take it home with you, or dispose of it in the nearest public waste bin.”

Henry Rawlings has raised more than £3,000 for charities in memory of his Beagle-cross Alfie (Henry Rawlings/South Downs National Park/PA)
Henry Rawlings has raised more than £3,000 for charities in memory of his Beagle-cross Alfie (Henry Rawlings/South Downs National Park/PA)

The national park authority calls for walkers and dog owners to keep their pets on a lead near livestock, to bag and bin dog poo, protect ground-nesting birds by sticking to paths between March and September 15, and not to enter military training areas when red flags are flying.

Mr Rawlings raised more than £3,000 for charities Canine Arthritis and Vetlife in memory of his Beagle-cross Alfie.