Dog Restrictions on Blue Flag Beaches
Are An Taisce banning dogs from beaches?
An Taisce does not have the authority to impose a ban on dogs from beaches and would not wish to do so. In Ireland, the Local authorities have the primary responsibility for the development and management of bathing waters. They are responsible for the provision of services and facilities at beaches under their management. Local Authorities may put in place rules or bye laws that apply to the usage of beaches under their management
The Blue Flag Award Programme for beaches, marinas and tourism boats is run by the international, non-governmental, non-profit organisation FEE (the Foundation for Environmental Education). The Blue Flag is awarded by FEE on the basis of compliance with 30 criteria and 3 guidelines under the headings of water quality, environmental management, environmental education and safety. The programme is a voluntary award scheme in which Blue Flags are awarded to applicant sites that can demonstrate compliance with the award criteria. In applying for a Blue Flag for a particular beach, the Local Authority undertakes to comply with these criteria.
In relation to the control of dogs and other domestic animals and their access to the beach the relevant Blue Flag beach criterion is number 23. This criterion states:
Criterion 23: Access to the beach by dogs and other domestic animals must be strictly controlled.
Dogs or pets, other than assistance dogs are not allowed on a Blue Flag beach or in the Blue Flag area if it is part of a larger beach. If the presence of pets is permitted by the local and national legislation, animals are only allowed in the parking areas, walkways and promenades in the inland beach area and must under control.
If the beach is patrolled by mounted police measures must be taken to ensure that no faecal matter contaminates the beach.
Wherever possible stray animals must be managed, and systems should be in place to remove stray animals from the beach. Measures must also be put in place to prevent access to the beach by stray animals. If stray animals are able to access the beach and cannot be controlled, it is recommended that the beach operator/local authority erect signs informing the public about this fact. It is also recommended that information be displayed about what the public should do should stray animals be seen on the beach.”
This criterion is imperative in all regions where Blue Flag is operated worldwide, and so applies during the award season, which for beaches corresponds to the bathing season. The bathing season in Ireland runs from June 1st to September 15th annually.
Are dogs not allowed on the beach at all?
It should be noted that the Blue Flag area does not have to be the entirety of the beach and restrictions do not apply to assistance dogs in any case. In some cases, particularly for smaller beaches dogs may not be allowed on the entirety of the beach for peak usage hours during the bathing season. The Blue Flag beach area is determined by the applying Local Authority in their Blue Flag award application. This area is outlined on the detailed beach map of awarded beaches displayed on site during the bathing season. The Blue Flag area should contain all the facilities and services necessary to comply with the Blue Flag criteria. As the Blue Flag award season corresponds to the bathing season, the rules restricting dogs need only be in place for this period of time in order to comply with the blue Flag criteria. Local Authorities can designate periods of time before and after peak usage hours during the bathing season in which less restrictive rules can be in place.
Why are dogs restricted on Blue Flag Beaches?
In Europe Blue Flags are awarded to beaches where water quality is managed in accordance with requirements of the EU Bathing Water Directive, in Ireland such beaches are known as identified bathing waters. Identified bathing Waters are beaches that have been identified by the Local Authority responsible for their management in accordance with the Bathing Water Regulations 2008 which give effect the EU Directives 2000/60/EC and 2006/7/EC. The bathing waters identified by local authorities are those surface waters where the authority expects a large number of people to bath. The number of identified bathing waters in Ireland is small with just 147 beaches designated as identified bathing waters in 2021. 139 of these are on the coast and 9 are inland bathing waters. Of these beaches 83 were awarded a Blue Flag in 2021.
The rationale for restricting the presence of dogs and other domestic animals within popular bathing areas is to minimise faecal contamination of bathing waters and beach sands, thereby safeguarding the well-being of beach users.
According to The World Health Organization ‘s (WHO) Guidelines on recreational water quality: volume 1 – coastal and fresh waters “The most common hazards in bathing waters are microbial pathogens introduced by faecal contamination from humans and animals. Sources of faecal contamination include among others: excreta from livestock animals, birds and dogs at the water use site or transported by runoff.”
Examples of control measures cited by The WHO Guidelines to reduce this hazard include: Restricting access of animals such as horses, cats and dogs to recreational waters and monitoring the access of these animals to beaches. The WHO Guidelines recommend as a management measure for pollution of beach sands that: The “exercising of dogs should be avoided in beach areas and should be kept separate from areas used by people during bathing seasons. Sections of the coast should be designated for this particular purpose.”
Where can I find out more about restrictions in place at my local beach?
It is a requirement of Blue Flag that a code of conduct that reflects the laws and/or regulations governing the use of the beach and surrounding areas must be displayed at awarded sites during the bathing season. Rules restricting dogs and other domestic animals can vary from county to county and at different times of the day and year. It is best to consult your Local Authorities website for the rules that apply to the usage of the beaches under their management both during and outside of the bathing season.