While waiting to see if the funding comes through, I've been thinking about the broader issue of the effect dogs have on wildlife. I doubt my January walks around Eilean Shona in the company of BeBe (left) inconvenienced wildlife much. However in spring when there are breeding ringed plovers and oystercatchers on the beaches, a single dog running along the shore at high tide might easily disrupt a pair, or several pairs. The dilemma is whether to ask dog owners to keep their dogs on leads on sensitive beaches in the nesting season; or would such restrictions put people off booking and send them on holiday elsewhere?
At Conon Bridge I walked with Flora, (right) a venerable springer. Hedges around her owner Lizzie's house are full of protected yellowhammers and tree sparrows, who coexist fine with Flora; she generally takes no notice of sheep, who quickly get used to her, and shows surprisingly little interest in large flocks of pink-footed geese that graze the stubbles. But if she senses a hare or a pheasant she off, doing what she has been bred to do for generations. The northernmost capercaillies in Scotland are in woods a few miles away; I wouldn't walk her there, or let her off her lead on a grouse moor.
Research suggests that in cold weather globally endangered curlews use up an extra 13 per cent of their body resources each time they are flushed. A friend who runs an Estate in Yorkshire with a resident population of curlews tells me of dogs racing around the valley bottom in freezing conditions, 500 metres away from their owners, repeatedly putting birds up and preventing them from feeding.
My latest companion was Ria, a lurcher in Suffolk. She senses game at a distance, and if she smells a hare she forgets herself completely. We played cat and mouse with the geese on the mere, which retreated to the other side when she appeared. I soon realized I had to keep her on a lead; the geese sensed this, and as soon as we retreated from the shoreline they swam in close and taunted her. For once I was closer to wildlife for having a dog with me, and Ria sportingly posed with the geese to commemorate the occasion.