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Confusion over dogs rights at lake affects nesting birds

Masterton District Council environmental services manager Terri Mulligan, with Janet Thompson, right. PHOTO/KAREN COLTMAN

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Henley Lake Reserve is clearly a favourite spot for hundreds of birds such as swans, various breeds of ducks and geese.

It’s breeding time and paired-up water fowl squawk and fuss about their nest preparation.

Protection of their nest is their top mission now.

To help keep dogs away from the nests the Masterton District Council Dog Policy states that dogs must be on leads at the lake from August 1 to November 30 in the wetlands area.

Outside of this area and time period, dogs can be off leads but must be under the ‘surveillance and effective control’ of their owners.

But a council spokesperson told the Times-Age that dog owners “aren’t particularly aware of it”.

Already this year there has been an attack on a nest and eggs destroyed.

The spokesperson said as many as 400 people were using the Henley Lake tracks daily and many are dog owners so it was important they knew the rules.

Council environmental services manager Terri Mulligan said that dogs are always allowed off the lead around the lake if they were under command of the owner, but the wetland area was a designated protection
area now.

“Over the next few months staff will be out chatting to dog owners making sure the on-lead areas are clear to them, and about why there is an on-lead area at this time of year,” she said.

While the Times-Age was by the sign explaining this rule, regular dog walker, Janet Thompson came along with her dog, Bree, off the lead. She was unaware that where she had just walked through was an on-the-lead area.

Mulligan gave her the information pamphlet about it and said new signs were going up in the next couple of weeks.

Speaking with Thompson as she walked further around the lake, she mentioned that a duck was “mauled to bits” a few weeks ago around the main lake area.

“Some just don’t have command of their dogs and there should be more signs about this requirement,” Thompson said.

“It takes a bit of training and time with the dog but my dog comes to me when I command it now.”

The Facebook page, Masterton Matters, has plenty of comments about the issue and contributors seem unaware that dogs are generally allowed off their leads at the lake.

On the other hand, many feel the signage is inadequate for the on-lead requirement around the wetlands. There are also references to ducks being mauled.

A survey by the council found that nearly half the 309 people surveyed felt dogs should always be on leads in public places.

President of Ducks Unlimited NZ Ross Cottle said many of the duck breeds at the lake did not pair for life. The male leaves the female once she settles into the nest to incubate the eggs.

For around four to five weeks the female is very vulnerable to predators.

Evidently, nesting also takes place around the main lake and on Swan Island.

“If she gets disturbed and comes off the nest there is really no way for her to protect the nest,” Cottle said.

There is a good range of duck breeds at the lake including the scaup, New Zealand’s native diving duck and the Australian coote.

The male swan [cob] does protect the nest and will be aggressive if necessary.

“But again, when the cygnets arrive, they are very vulnerable.

“Like any young bird they are really no match for a dog,” Cottle said.

“Recently I saw a dog just swimming around in the area and the owner was not bothered – in fact gave me the bird, ironically.”

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