Doodoowatch: a crowdsourced solution to our cities’ dog mess minefield?

Major cities worldwide have tried and failed to cut dog fouling. Could a Cambridgeshire village’s ‘mess map’ be the answer?

It is the Sisyphean task shared by cities, towns and villages around the world – indeed, anywhere where man coexists with his best friend. What to do about dog poo?

Tarragona, Spain, has tried DNA testing. Madrid, a €1000-plus fine or shifts as a street cleaner. Stafford borough council, a £75 reward for reporting it. Edinburgh tried condemning it with chalk stencils, while many towns across Great Britain have tried highlighting it with spray paint.

Paris – where roughly 650 people go to hospital each year with broken limbs after slipping in faeces – has experimented with an app and “incivility police”, after abandoning its fleet of motorised pooper-scoopers in 2004.

Now a community in Cambridgeshire claims to have solved the problem by combining crowdsourced data with the spirit of Neighbourhood Watch.

Residents of the village of Wimblington are maintaining a collaborative map of uncollected droppings in a bid to identify hotspots and possible repeat offenders. There is even the option for especially engaged users to upload photographs of individual stools, for veracity.

Founder Amanda Carlin, a former parish councillor, says the “Doodoowatch” mapsucceeded in clearing the village of dog mess within a week of its being set up in early March. She says she has since been been swamped with inquiries from nearly 100 groups and authorities in Britain hoping to replicate their success.

The idea was born out of discussion by village residents on Facebook. “We were communicating with each other about the issue of abandoned dog mess and what we can do to combat it,” she says. “I thought perhaps people knowing that we were recording where there had been sightings would prevent it from happening.

“Within the first week of Doodoowatch, we’d stopped getting any sightings. We were all clear.”

Three volunteers log the community’s reports of uncollected droppings on the map, hosted by Google Maps, as well as when they are cleared up, whereupon the red icon turns green.

“What we have now is this massive green sea, and it’s wonderful,” says Carlin. “We have a clean village, and we are all happier for it.”

At time of writing, the Wimblington “Poopfolio” map had had more than 15,000 views, and showed one uncollected stool, recorded on Norfolk Street on Monday – egregiously, right opposite a “doodoo bin”.

The initiative has buy-in from the local council, which is informed of any messes that are particularly obstructive or hard to clean up. Should the map identify any repeat offenders, says Carlin, it could also help the council to enforce its on-the-spot fine of £75.

“I can’t say we’ve got suspicions about who the perpetrators are, but we have been able to tell what size of dog it is, where that dog is walked on a daily basis, and the exact time.”

Carlin is now is working with bodies around Great Britain interested in potentially extending the scheme – areas of Lancaster, Leeds, London and Wolverhampton among them – by circulating instructional packs for community groups and councils free of charge. A Briton living part-time in France hopes to introduce it there, the BBC reports.

Matthew Robinson, a Leeds city councillor, intends to lead a trial of Doodoowatch in three villages “blighted” by dog mess in the coming weeks. He contacted Carlin on Twitter after seeing media coverage of her “really clever, innovative idea”.

The initiative has buy-in from the local council, which is informed of any messes that are particularly obstructive or hard to clean up. Should the map identify any repeat offenders, says Carlin, it could also help the council to enforce its on-the-spot fine of £75.

“I can’t say we’ve got suspicions about who the perpetrators are, but we have been able to tell what size of dog it is, where that dog is walked on a daily basis, and the exact time.”

Carlin is now is working with bodies around Great Britain interested in potentially extending the scheme – areas of Lancaster, Leeds, London and Wolverhampton among them – by circulating instructional packs for community groups and councils free of charge. A Briton living part-time in France hopes to introduce it there, the BBC reports.

Matthew Robinson, a Leeds city councillor, intends to lead a trial of Doodoowatch in three villages “blighted” by dog mess in the coming weeks. He contacted Carlin on Twitter after seeing media coverage of her “really clever, innovative idea”.

The results of the upcoming trial in Scholes, Barwick-in-Elmet and Aberford will determine whether it is rolled out to the city of Leeds and elsewhere, says Robinson.

“I think it has the ability not to only aid the local authority in [handing out] their fines but raise awareness, educate people and potentially even save money for the authorities by allowing them to direct their resources better.

“We’ve got dog wardens and they do a good job, but they can’t be everywhere. Bringing [the map] to Leeds seems like a really good thing to me.”

The charity Keep Britain Tidy, which aims to see dog fouling substantially reduced by 2020 and all but eradicated by 2030, has endorsed Doodoowatch as a means of facilitating citizen action.

Chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton says Keep Britain Tidy’s “We’re watching you” campaign has reduced fouling by up to 90% in some areas, with research showing that people are more likely to pick up after their dogs when they feel like they are being monitored.

“The more people who take a stand against one of the most offensive forms of littering, the better.”

There is plenty of interest in finding a solution that works. Research by both Keep Britain Tidy and the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) has found that addressing dog fouling is a top priority for the public and local authorities.

But councils and other bodies say that reduced services budgets have impeded their ability to tackle the problem. APSE’s 2016 briefing on dog fouling found that32.4% of local authorities foresaw growth for their services in the next two years, while the majority expected decreased funding for cleansing of streets and parks.

With less funding incoming, local authorities are having to be resilient and creative in their solutions to tackling dog fouling,” the APSE briefing concluded, suggesting approaches that made use of “the eyes and ears of local communities …. and public shaming”.

Carlin says Doodoowatch has the backing of the 2,000-odd residents of Wimblington, who want it to continue to dissuade dog owners from falling back into bad habits.

“We did have some people who felt, ‘We’ve got a lovely village, why does it have to be known for having a problem with dog mess?’ But the fact is that it’s known for having a problem and having dealt with it.”

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