Berkshire dog walkers asked to help protect rare heathland birds

  • ITV News Meridian's Nicki Woodcock reports from Greenham Common near Newbury

A wildlife charity is urging dog walkers in Berkshire to keep their pets under control this spring and summer, to help protect some of the county’s rarest and most fascinating birds.

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) is making the appeal at two of its most popular nature reserves, Greenham & Crookham Commons and Snelsmore Common Country Park.

Three new seasonal reserve wardens will help spread the word, talking to thousands of visitors about ground-nesting birds and how to help protect them.

Friday, 1 March marked the start of ground-nesting bird season in the UK, when species such as nightjars, skylarks and Dartford warblers make nests on the ground or in low-growing bushes.

Greenham Common, Berkshire Credit: Rob Appleby

Heathland sites such as Greenham & Crookham and Snelsmore near Newbury, managed by BBOWT on behalf of West Berkshire Council, offer the perfect environment for them.

Research shows that ground-nesting birds are in trouble, with around 66% in decline in the UK. Loose dogs are one of the biggest causes of disturbance.

So, the Trust is asking dog walkers to help it build on decades of work protecting these vulnerable species by making sure they stick to paths, alongside their dogs.

Zoe Burfitt, one of BBOWT's new seasonal reserve wardens, said: "The main part of our role is to go out and chat to visitors to the common and try and educate people on ground nesting-birds because a lot of people haven't heard of ground-nesting birds or don't know that some birds do nest directly on the ground."

  • Zoe Burfitt, Warden, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust

Roger Stace, BBOWT’s Berkshire Land Manager, said: "There's so much incredible wildlife at these special sites, but it can easily be disturbed by people walking near where birds are nesting and by dogs sniffing around.

"People and dogs don't mean any harm, but they can cause birds to abandon their nests, leaving their chicks to die.

"One person or one dog may not make a difference, but if it happens again and again it definitely will."

In 2009, a BBOWT survey recorded 32 male skylarks that had established nesting territories on Greenham; last year there were just two. This decline is partly down to disturbance by people and dogs.

The three new wardens: Patrick Gaffney, Zoe Burfitt and Martha Pearce. Credit: Roger Stace

The three new wardens will be out and about on the commons chatting to visitors about how to protect wildlife, until after ground-nesting bird season ends on July 31.

At both reserves, the wardens will be enforcing the same rules to protect wildlife.

Visitors, whether walking, on bikes, on horseback, or with dogs, are asked to stick to the main paths, except when in sign-posted roam zones at Greenham or on the green route at Snelsmore.

Dog walkers are also asked to keep their dogs with them on the path at all times, except in the signposted areas. People who cannot keep their dogs under control, will be asked to use a lead.

Responsible owners who keep their dogs under control will also help protect their pets from injury, road accidents, adder bites and from getting lost while out walking.

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