Dateline: South-West London
Wimbledon Common is a glorious open space - nothing like a manicured park with rose gardens and mulched borders but a microcosm of the English countryside - hills and heathland and marsh and bog and forest, where muddy paths criss-cross among wild rosebushes, blackberries and brambles. If you walk far enough from the main road you can imagine yourself in the middle of nowhere and not in South-West London.
Fortunately back in the 1860s, it was saved for the hoi polloi from the rapacious clutches of the Lord of the Manor, Earl Spencer no less, who had tried to sneak in an Act of Parliament so he could put up a mansion for himself and flog off the rest for a building site. At the moment, it's safe and a paradise for walkers, runners, riders and dog-owners.
It seems that every pooch in south London gets taken to the Common for its daily exercise. Mostly I love seeing the dogs but there is a small problem with the owners. Blame it on the shortcomings of the local expensive private schools but they appear never to have learned to read. Or they are afflicted with short sight. At this time of year there are signs around the ponds, asking dog owners to keep their dogs out of the water to protect the baby birds. There are also signs to keep dogs on a lead around a small patch of heathland where they're trying to encourage nesting skylarks. I've never seen a single dog owner take the slightest bit of notice of these signs. I met one on the bus with an extremely muddy dog, "Yes", she laughed to all and sundry, "he's been in the pond. He loves it!" Another, this morning, strode merrily right through the skylark habitat. When I've remonstrated with them, I've been put sharply in my place. Once I went in despair to the Rangers' office and the nice girl there threw up her hands. It seems there is nothing they can do. The dog walkers are a powerful lobby with few natural predators. They are convinced they are right and no measly sign is going to change that. (Never mind there are a thousand other acres for their dogs to run around in.) Personally I think they should make the signs much bigger and include dire threats. They could take their cue from Florida.
But then it wouldn't be very British.
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