Taking the lead on the South Downs

Dog walking on a lead

The South Downs are a fantastic place to walk your dog, so there's always somewhere near to you where you can enjoy this amazing countryside throughout the year. There’s plenty of space to let your dog off the lead and there’s lots for them to explore, including farms, heathlands, forests and historical sites.

Responsible dog walkers are very welcome in the South Downs.  They are a great place to walk and for you and your pet to enjoy the countryside.  But they are also a sensitive landscape and so there are certain things to consider when you are out and about.  

Sarah Fisk, National Trust Ranger at Black Down, says “as a dog owner, I know there can be lots of questions when deciding on when, where and how I can exercise my dog safely and responsibly.  I love walking my dog across the downs, and they love to run off the lead where they can.  But I know it is always important to consider what might be happening at the places where I am walking that I might need to consider before I let my dogs run off the lead.  This includes sheep that may be about to lamb or ground nesting birds that are raising a brood of chicks.”

Enjoy a family dog walk in Petworth Park
Enjoy a family dog walk in Petworth Park
Enjoy a family dog walk in Petworth Park

So please help us keep the countryside a safe, healthy and enjoyable place for you and your dog, other visitors, wildlife and livestock by remembering the following:

  • Keep your dog in sight and under control - use a lead if requested
  • Don't let your dog chase wildlife or farm animals
  • Watch out for local notices. There may be restrictions in woodland or farmland at sensitive times of year, during the lambing season, or between March and the end of July when ground-nesting birds are on eggs or raising their young
  • Please always pick up after your dog. At many of our sites there are dedicated dog bins for you to use

Farm animals

You will often see sheep or cattle grazing on the downs, such as the herd of pedigree rare breed Belted Galloway cows grazing at Black Down and Woolbeding.  They are an essential part of the management and help reduce the rough gorse and silver birch, keeping the landscape open for everyone to enjoy. This breed was chosen for their placid nature and ability to thrive on the coarse grasses and scrub.

Majestic belted Galloway cattle help manage invasive scrub and bracken
Majestic belted Galloway cattle help manage invasive scrub and bracken
Majestic belted Galloway cattle help manage invasive scrub and bracken

Sheep have grazed the downs for centuries, and are a key part of managing the beautiful flower rich grasslands seen today.  However, they are very vulnerable to disturbance both before and during lambing so it is important that are not put under undue stress at these key times of year – keep an eye for notices on site.

Ground nesting birds

Some downland and heathland birds, such as skylarks or nightjars, nest on the ground and so are vulnerable to disturbance by dogs.  March to July is a critical nesting time for birds.  If you have a dog that likes to run around, please avoid using sensitive sites or keep dogs on leads.  Keep to main paths and tracks and don’t let dogs run off the paths chasing sticks and balls.

Keep an eye out for  signs at the countryside sites you visit which will help you plan your visit and where to walk.

Listen out for skylarks overhead
Skylark sometimes seen at Sheringham
Listen out for skylarks overhead

Adders

Adders emerge from hibernation during March and while they’re still slow they will be vulnerable to disturbance and need to stay in cover. Please keep your dogs close by and away from taller vegetation.  Adders will strike out if they feel threatened and an adder bite can be fatal to dogs.

Pick up

Dog mess is unpleasant to come across on a walk, and can damage the fragile balance of nature at countryside sites.  It can also be a health hazard for both people and animals.  Please pick up after your pet and take it home with you, or put in dog bins where provided.

Find out more

Don't forget to follow the countryside code
Two cartoon dogs from South Downs Take the Lead video
Don't forget to follow the countryside code

The National Trust are very pleased to be working in partnership with the South Downs National Park Authority to promote dog walking in this beautiful landscape.  Find out more about dogs in the countryside with these light hearted animated films.