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Dog walkers urged to lead the way in protecting ground-nesting birds


Apr 18, 2022 #birds, #Wildlife

WILDLIFE experts in the North-East have issued a plea to dog walkers to lead the way in protecting ground-nesting birds.

Durham Wildlife Trust has joined a national call from The Wildlife Trusts to urge dog owners to keep their pets on short leads to avoid disturbing birds during spring and summer.

Exuberant or inquisitive dogs, wandering or bounding through grass or heather, can easily disturb wildlife, scare birds off nests, or trample eggs. Vulnerable chicks can quickly perish if they are left alone for too long.

Mark Dinning, Head of Conservation for Durham Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a really important time of year when birds, and all wildlife, are reproducing and we all have a responsibility to play our part in supporting nature.

“We are facing a real ecological emergency and, if we take birds as an example, we have seen very serious reductions in their numbers as a result of habitat loss through human land management practices.  Today we are to the point where the survival of some species is seriously under threat. We all have a role in allowing the numbers to begin to recover.

“It might seem like a small thing to let your dog run free across grasslands or other semi-natural habitats but it’s the cumulative effect that’s the problem, and it’s about making a compromise in the interests of nature.”

Mark cited the example of Hedleyhope Fell as a place that has become increasingly popular among dog walkers during the past two years of the pandemic. The County Durham nature reserve is a prime spot for breeding waders, such as curlews and lapwings.

Cross Lane Meadows, opposite the MetroCentre, is another example where dogs could pose a risk to skylarks nesting among the grassland.

And on the Durham coast, nesting sea birds like little tern or the ring plover are particularly susceptible to human disturbance.

“We have very good footpath networks on our sites, so it’s easy to still give dogs plenty of exercise while keeping them on a lead,” said Mark. “It’s about finding a compromise by identifying routes and areas of land during bird breeding that are going to be less impactful on wildlife.”

Jane Byrne, landscapes recovery programme manager for The Wildlife Trusts, added: “Wildlife is under enormous pressure – let’s all keep dogs in check so as not to make things worse.”

The law states that you must keep your dog on a lead no longer than two metres, between March 1 and July 31, when on any open access land, to protect ground-nesting birds.


  • Nightjars lay eggs directly on the ground in heathlands.
  • Willow warbles tuck themselves away at the base of trees and bushes in woods.
  • Meadow pipits hide their eggs in grassy tussocks on commons and meadows.
  • Garden birds like blackbirds and dunnocks can nest close to the ground.
  • Oystercatcher, ringed plover and little tern eggs and chicks are brilliantly camouflaged on beaches, among pebbles and sand, making them easy to disturb.

By admin