Research finds tree damage by dogs a growing problem

Early results from a survey into trees damaged by dogs in the capital suggest that the problem has increased significantly over the past two years.

The London Tree Officers Association (LTOA) has collated the first results of a survey it is carrying out into the extent of the problem and methods local authorities are using to tackle it.

A total of 16 of the 33 London boroughs have responded to the survey to date and results show they all believe dog damage to be a major concern.

LTOA committee member Jake Tibbetts, who is arboriculture manager at Islington Council, is leading on the project.

He will meet Greater London Authority representatives and officers from the Met Police's Status Dogs Unit on Monday (9 November) and is forming a working party to develop best-practice guidance for local authorities.

"We need to take a multi-pronged approach," explained Tibbetts. "That includes prosecution, educating people that trees don't just grow back after being damaged and community engagement, as well as physical protection for trees such as tree guards."

Islington uses hessian wrapping on some of its trees, while Tibbetts reported that another authority was using chilli powder.

But he believes protection is not the answer. "I don't want to see all the trees protected by guards, because what message is that sending to people?" he said.

The perception of damage arising purely from young people with fighting dogs is also flawed, according to research. "It could be chihuahuas and we've come across middle-aged people with dogs attacking trees."

Campaigner Meg Howarth, who organised an event in September to highlight the issue - Bark to Bark - agreed. She said: "There is a myth that it is only urban males on estates, but that's not true. It's a much more complex problem."

According to LTOA chairman Oliver Stutter, the problem is enormous in his borough of Southwark. "We've lost entire estates of mature trees," he revealed. "Hopefully the survey will lead to more collaborative working and action."

Trees & Design Action Group member Sue James added: "There needs to be a cross-borough, cross-departmental approach. But we are all clear we need evidence-based research."

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