This is a week when Scotland is in the spotlight nationally and internationally – indeed, in 2014, there can scarcely have been any international media outlet that has not spent at least some of their time talking about Scotland, whether it is the Ryder Cup, the Commonwealth Games or the independence referendum. “The eyes of the world are upon us” is truly a phrase written for years like this one.
Internationally, our country is regarded as one of the most dramatic scenic environments, urban and rural, that is available to the world traveller. Here at home we know our country has some outstanding open spaces either in open countryside or in the many green spaces that provide important leisure opportunities for locals and visitors to our country’s capital city. We all cherish those green spaces.
Actually, almost all of us cherish them. As our Ditch the Dirt campaign makes clear, there remains a small minority of the population that deem it acceptable to use our local parks, but steadfastly refuse to clean up after their dogs. It is not a large proportion of dog owners who think that their local park is an acceptable place to use as a dog toilet, but that small proportion ignores the rules on a daily basis, and the result is as disgusting as it is unacceptable. At Keep Scotland Beautiful, the national environmental charity, we think the time has come for a zero-tolerance approach, and our Ditch the Dirt campaign has been launched to raise our profile at a vital time. For right now all over the UK, local people are taking part in a national competition to identify the best parks in the country. You can vote too, through our website. The Green Flag Award for parks and open spaces winners in Scotland are up against the best of the UK’s open spaces and need everyone’s support to do well in a very high-quality competition.
But to really enthuse people about their local park, means we have to do even more to ensure they are well used and safe for all to enjoy. Which brings me back to our small minority again – the few who don’t want to maximise use of parks, and who don’t want to ensure they are safe for all to use. That’s why we have to change the behaviour of the stubborn and the selfish.
Of course, we’re not saying that parks are the only area where dog fouling has an impact – we can see the impact on urban footpaths, school playgrounds, even open farmland where farmers tell us that dog fouling is becoming a growing antisocial and unhealthy problem for them to deal with.
The good news is that the fight back has begun. Our Clean Up Scotland campaign is raising the profile of the battle for a cleaner Scotland, whether that is litter on our street, or dog poo in our parks. We’ve had more than 370,000 people volunteering to help us with our clean-up initiatives, although a shocking 64 per cent have reported dog fouling as a problem in the areas they have been cleaning. Those people and the Clean Up Scotland campaign are fighting back against those who disregard the needs of others and drop their litter or who refuse to clean up after their dogs.
However, to take the fight to a whole new level, we need everyone on our side. Local people need to take a zero-tolerance approach to dog fouling and soon our Scottish parks will be challenging at the very top of the awards listings.
We have some great, green open spaces, but with the co-operation of every dog owner we can make them great, green and clean! All we need is for EVERY dog owner to “grab it, bag it, and bin it!”
Derek Robertson is chief executive of the charity Keep Scotland Beautiful