Every so often Unforgettabubble bursts! This is one such occasion and I have to ask the question….what is it with poo bags?
My feet are magnets to a dog’s poo. In the seventies, when I was little, playgrounds seemed to be riddled with the stuff, pavements were stinky obstacle courses and parks were just one big dog toilet.
Did anyone think of picking up poo? No. It was disgusting. Picking up your dog’s poo was totally taboo. But, since then, we’ve come a long way. Cities, towns, villages have all cleaned up their acts and thankfully, it is, in the main, rare to come across the amount of poo I used to as a child. In fact, most people are just so used to picking up poo that it has become second nature and thank goodness for that! In our urban areas we can step freely and breathe easy.
But there is a new breed (pardon the pun) of dog poo person on the block….the ‘Countryside Poo Flinger’ or CPF. This is the person that initially follows the rules… a CPF remembers to carry poo bags, dutifully picks up the poo using the said remembered poo bags but then, for some unknown reason thinks ‘sod the rules’ and hurtles it into the undergrowth, into trees, under benches and even into gardens.
As someone who lives in the countryside, in an area of forestry run by the Forestry Commission, I regularly see poo bags on my walks in and around the area and I just can’t help but wonder what a CPF was thinking when they decided to fling the poo!
Here the facts about dog poo in the countryside (and what to do with it)!
1. Poo decomposes quicker than a plastic bag
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that dogs aren’t the only creatures that poo in the countryside. Rabbits, deer, birds, badgers, foxes all have to do it. It becomes quite normal to see such things and some naturalists even smell it. Otter spraint is probably the most popular to have a whiff of! Now, we aren’t all picking up wild animal poo and we don’t really notice it (until my dog rolls in fox poo, then I’ll know about it for a week!!). The fact is that poo decomposes and it does so relatively quickly. Bad weather is best – a heavy downpour will hasten the decomposition of a poo tenfold.
What doesn’t degrade well is the plastic bag. The amount of time it takes to decompose varies from 10 to 100 years (according to whichever scientific report you’ve chosen to read) and some believe that plastic bags never fully decompose at all. Whilst biodegradable bags are better, they still take approximately two months to break down and even then there are shreds of plastic still present.
The fact is that, whilst a dog poo will have gone within a matter of days, the plastic bag it is in will be there for a long, long time after. Now that would certainly be a subject for discussion in itself (plastic in landfill sites and oceans are certainly regularly debated and lamented) but here I’m concerned with bags being left in the countryside.
So, the question is…why place something that will be gone in a few days into something that will be still be in situ for several years or, at best a few months, later? The photo below shows a plastic bag which is practically empty, the poo contents having long since decomposed to mush, in the forest well off the path.
2. In the countryside, you won’t find dog poo bins every few metres
Unlike public parks, playgrounds or popular dog walking sites in urban areas, dog poo bins aren’t situated every few metres in the countryside and with good reason.
I don’t want to see poo bins on the Lakeland fells, or in the middle of heather moorland in the North York Moors or in our beautiful meadows. Not only would it scar the beauty of the countryside but it would be impossible to check the bins, collect all the poo and keep them clean. Just pity the poor poo collection person who would have to trudge miles, often across difficult terrain, to check, empty and clean the bins then cart it all back!
3. Rubbish collects rubbish
It does! If you fly-tip in a particular place, others follow suit until it becomes a big dumping ground. It’s the same with poo bags. Your single poo bag, even if placed nice and neatly by a tree, won’t be single for long. When someone put a poo bag by the gritting box opposite Bubble HQ, within days there was another and another until there were five bags.
Have a look at this photo taken on one of the woodland tracks leading from a car park. One bag has not only attracted more bags in a variety of colours but also coffee cups, water bottles and other plastic cartons.
4. Poo bags are not collected
Contrary to popular belief, poo bags are not mysteriously picked up overnight by a poo pixie. If you leave a poo bag by a tree, by a sign post, by a building, by a bush, by a junction or any it will still be there the day after…it is not on a list of refuse collections by the council!
The Forestry Commission does a cracking job litter picking in the busy areas every morning but it is nigh on impossible to walk every trail and forest ride every day.
Members of the public will complain if they see poo bags – to be fair to the Forestry Commission, it isn’t their fault. Others do help. The Friends of Dalby Forest, local residents (me included) and some members of the public will pick up rubbish but it is hardly fair that they should have to do that whilst going about their own business (no pun intended!).
5. Poo bags do not make good Christmas decorations
This is especially for the CPFs…..you may not be able to see the poo bag you flung into a tree in summer but come winter it will reappear suspended from branches clinging like some sort of huge bauble. No matter how hard I try, I cannot see them as decorative!
Because of the slopes and hills in the area, quite often poo bags may land high in a tree but because the tree grows on a slope below, the top of the tree and hence the poo bag is on the same level as my eyes. They are always just out of reach too – either too high or too far across a slope. Health & Safety would have a field day trying to risk assess the removal of poo bags from trees!
6. Poo bags are harmful to wildlife
Just as a female moth releases pheromones to attract the male, poo releases a stink that attracts flies even if in a poo bag. Other dogs will smell it (why are dogs just so disgusting?!) which may prompt them to poo too!
Poo bags that drop from trees into streams and other water bodies can cause problems for the resident dippers, kingfishers and otters especially if the bag splits or opens somehow. Getting caught in a bag or ingesting the plastic could be fatal.
Meanwhile, plastic bags left on land to decompose over a number of years can be harmful to the soil affecting what grows in and around it.
So what can a dog walker do about poo in the countryside?
I am a dog walker with a wad of poo bags in my pocket. My dog produces an enormous amount of poo! Sometimes four huge poos a day. She is just a poo machine so I know how frustrating it is to pick up the poo and carry around a bag full of the stuff. I wish she was a Chihuahua! Perhaps I should leave her to poo in the garden but how can I refuse to take her on her walks!
This is how I deal with the never-ending production of poo!
1 – If she poos in a public area then I will pick up the poo in a bag and take it either to the nearest bin (which are usually around in these areas) or, more begrudgingly, take it home.
**I would define ‘public area’ as anywhere near a building (even if not lived in like the one below), park, playground, sports field, carpark etc…..you get my drift**
2 – If she poos in the middle of a track and it has deep verges or woodland edges then I will flick the poo with a stick into an area where people are unlikely to go. Think hockey or cricket with less effort put into the hit. You’re not aiming for the boundary!
If it is too sloppy to be flicked (yes, sometimes that happens and yes, it has to be dealt with!) then I’ll bag it and take it away. The poo below is perfect for the ‘stick and flick’ but unfortunately has been abandoned in a bag on the track.
3 – If she poos deep in the forest or on areas that are well off the track unlikely to be used by people then I will leave it, bagless, to decompose naturally. Don’t worry, I won’t illustrate this point with a photo!
The Forestry Commission advises….
Following a national campaign earlier this year, this is what the Forestry Commission says on its website about dog poo and it’s simple….
Use the ‘stick and flick’ method.
A poem was read out in Parliament to highlight the Forestry Commission’s stance on dog poo. I won’t replicate it in full but essentially it goes like this…
“If your dog should do a plop, take a while and make a stop, just find a stick and flick it wide into the undergrowth at the side”
So, I appeal to all Countryside Poo Flingers, please follow the Countryside Dog Poo Code.
Bag & remove or stick & flick!
On a happier note, do not expect all our forests to be full of poo! Don’t let the thought of poo put you off a visit. I went out on the busier trails yesterday to get some more photos of poo bags and came back without one! Well done Forestry Commission and well done dog walkers. It’s improving!!
Sometimes something else appears in a tree – Easter eggs on the annual Easter egg hunt, the odd Christmas decoration, a bit of bunting when the Tour de France/Yorkshire rides through. Monkey was stuck in a tree, cold and wet, muddy and smelly. He’s with us now…washed and dried. He has a happy home here but if anyone recognises him, drop me a comment, I’m sure he’d like to go home!