Civil liberties in cemeteries?


A local resident was walking his well-behaved dog on a lead in the Rye cemetery recently when he was approached by a uniformed man who fined him £100 for being in the wrong part of the cemetery with his dog. The report of this incident in the Nextdoor app recently sparked comments from others who had similar experiences with their dogs in Rye cemetery. Strong views expressed reasons for and against better signage and whether or not these fines are an unnecessary infringement of our civil liberties.

Official responses sought from the cemeteries officer and the environmental health officer at Rother District Council (RDC) and the principal rights of way officer from the rights of way and countryside department of East Sussex County Council concurred that it is legal to walk your dog on a lead ONLY on the gravel pathways through Rye cemetery.

Clear signage on the cemetery entrance tells you what you can and cannot do.

National Enforcement Solutions Ltd (NES) have a one-year concessionary agreement with RDC to enforce all environmental offences, including dog fouling, littering and unauthorised disposal of waste. This is on the basis that there is no cost to the council. They are also solely responsible for their operations and deal with all appeals against fixed penalty notices (FPNs) issued.

Their employees wear body cams when patrolling and sometimes issue fines to dog walkers they consider to be illegal in this cemetery. NES officers are not employed by Rother District Council.

Without wishing to wield “an enormous metaphysical sledgehammer to crack an inconsequential nut” as one person described this issue, the importance of each dog owner to each take responsibility for picking up their dog’s poo is a given. A plea for more bins could encourage owners to do this.

No dogs allowed, except on the footpath

Apart from dog hygiene, surely maintaining a respectful serene peaceful atmosphere is what really matters most in our cemetery. Dogs can be very comforting to their owners if they are visiting the graves of their loved ones. These graves can be some distance away from the gravel paths. If it’s OK for rabbits, foxes and badgers to roam freely in the cemetery and it’s OK to walk our dogs on leads in the ancient cemeteries of the Rye churchyard… are these fines and restrictions really necessary and/or appropriate?

Image Credits: Nick Forman .

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  1. NO …answer to the question asked by Susan Benn.
    Dogs on short leads ..thus in control should be fine. And not allowed to walk over the graves.
    I do not own a dog or walk other peoples’.
    Dogs off leads are the danger..near Sheep,cattle, horse and people.

  2. Signage needs to be clear.
    I agree a dog’s company could be a great comfort to a grieving person, so am pleased dogs are allowed on leads on paths at Rye cemetery. The regulations are fixed in consultation with local bodies, such as the Town Council, and vary according to local opinion and conditions.
    I believe in Hastings cemetery dogs are banned altogether, which is sad.

  3. I thought this might be an April Fool joke. The idea of uniformed men lurking amongst the trees and graves at Rye cemetery, ready to pounce on straying dog walkers, is farcical.
    What is almost unbelievable is that the outsourced company workers ‘are not employed by RDC’ and are carrying out this service as a money making operation.
    Whoever at Rother who thought it was a good idea, should be disciplined.

  4. A £100 fine for straying off a path does seem excessive. If appropriate signage were in place, it could be justified; but do we really want signs everywhere?

    This is also part of a wider trend toward contracting out enforcement tasks to privately owned companies. Do they really have the extensive powers they claim? These companies are now also used by the courts, by authorities responsible for road tolls, etc. I had a taste of the issue recently when an aggressive debt collection outfit came after me for a debt owed, not by me, but by someone I’ve never even met, and it was a very unpleasant experience.

    Surely the onus is on NES to prove their case properly, i.e. that the “offender” must have known they were breaking a by-law? And is the use of body cams–a sort of roving CCTV–really justified? I absolutely agree that people should control their dogs, pick up their litter, pay their debts and all the rest, but enforcement by private militia dressed as Robocops (what training are they given? how are they regulated?) seems like a matter that needs to be addressed urgently.

  5. Although the vigilance of patrolling staff, wearing a body cam, is to be commended for safety purposes, it seems somewhat superfluous in this instance. Particularly when other situations, such as dangerous parking, lorries attempting to pass dangerously narrow roads, go unheeded.

  6. Where exactly is ‘the wrong part of the cemetery to have a dog on a lead’? Many dog walkers walk from one end to the other with their dogs on a lead as dictated by the signage .. is there a cut-off part? And what about fining the owner of the sheep that get into the cemetery .. surely it’s their duty to keep their fences in order. After viewing the destruction caused by foxes and rabbits to many graves I cannot fathom why a dog on a lead should be an issue.

  7. I’m curious about the funding of NES. If the service is free to the city of Rye — did I read correctly ? — how is it funded ?

    • It’s at no cost to Rother and therefore tax payers, but is funded through the fines accrued to NES, as I understand it. That probably accounts for the initial (I hope!) over-zealousness of NES operatives, which I think the Council has addressed with the contractor. Hopefully, it’s a simple case of teething problems and it will ultimately address the public desire for regulation of littering and fouling. It’s always a difficult job to balance regulation with general liberties, local customary behaviour and business practice, and we know a lot of consternation was caused in this instance. There always needs to be very good communication around such initiatives.
      As a footnote, there’s always another thought provoking layer to these discussions – why does RDC have to look for no cost contract services? Why are so many people working zero hours and on commission? Anyway, bigger discussion!
      Let’s hope things have found their equilibrium now.

  8. We walked down through the cemetery this afternoon and there was a lady sat on a bench while her dog ran through the graves, when she saw us coming she caught the dog and headed off down the steps to Love Lane without a backwards glance.
    So that plan hasn’t worked has it.?

  9. It would be interesting to know what NES operatives powers are,if people refuse to coeperate with them,they may have body cams, but they are not police officers,so they cannot detain anyone, nobody likes litter, and since Rother done away with dog wardens, the dog filth on pavements and recreation grounds is not acceptable, but nor is this draconian approach from these people.

  10. There is a public right of way through the cemetary from the bottom of the steps leading from Love Lane to the Main Road A268. No-one can stop you walking through the cemetary but you must abide by the rules, keep your dog on a leash and stay on the allotted pathway.

  11. So let me understand this. I can walk my small dog through the graveyard on a leash, provided that she stays on the gravel pathway… but like all the dogs that I have ever owned she will usually look for the adjacent grass if she wishes to have a pee or a poo. If the latter, I will pick it up and bag it. But in either case, does this constitute a departure from walking on the required permitted route, thus an offence to be followed by a uniformed enforcement officer pouncing on what is seen as easy prey to satisfy targets? Is this really the England that I used to live in?


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