Plea to Devon dog owners during 'sensitive' time for wildlife

generic dog walking on lead
Dog owners are being reminded to keep their dogs on leads

Dog owners are being reminded to keep their dogs on leads in order to protect ground-nesting birds this spring and summer.

Devon Wildlife Trust has urged people visiting moorlands, fields, urban parks and beaches with their dogs to be wary of the birds nesting on the ground - which are at risk of trampling, disturbance and harm.

Peter Burgess, Devon Wildlife Trust’s Director of Conservation said this is a particularly "sensitive" time for wildlife.

“After months of being couped up we’re all looking forward to exploring wilder places as spring begins to burst in to colour. But this is one of the most sensitive times for wildlife," he said.

"Many species of bird nest on or near the ground, and in some of the most unexpected places.

Dunnocks can lay their eggs on the ground Credit: PA Images / Richard Gray

"Keeping dogs on a short lead will help reduce disturbance and ensure their chicks can fledge."

While many birds do build their nests up in trees, Devon Wildlife Trust says a "surprising" number nest on the ground or in low bushes.

For example, nightjars, willow warblers, meadow pipits, oystercatcher and even more familiar garden birds like dunnocks and blackbirds.

Some beaches have cordoned-off areas to protect some of the rarest birds’ nests – but, the wildlife trust says it’s best to keep dogs on leads on all beaches and the wider countryside until chicks have fledged in September.

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

Devon Wildlife Trust asks dog walkers to avoid some of its nature reserves because the wildlife there is too rare or fragile and needs special protection.

These sites include South Efford Marsh near Kingsbridge, Dawlish Inner Warren near Dawlish, Exe Reed Beds near Exeter, and Horsey Island near Braunton.

The trust advises looking at individual nature reserve webpages before you leave home to see if and where dogs are allowed. More information can be found here.