Do protect nesting birds on heaths, downs & wetlands: keep to paths and use a short lead from February to August
Check out the 'out & about' pages to find off-lead walks as well as more information about nature reserves
Rare birds nest on or near the ground so please keep your dog on a short lead in areas like heaths, downs & wetlands during the nesting season (nb the rules about this vary and not everywhere will be the same - follow the link to find out more. In some places dogs must be on a lead, in other places what people are actually asked to do is to ensure that dogs are kept on the path and under effective control, with a lead being used to make sure if necessary). Even friendly dogs scare birds away from their nests leaving the chicks exposed to predators and the cold, so for off-lead exercise spring's a good time to explore your local area & find alternative places to visit.
Nightjars can be found nesting on some of the heaths in south east Dorset and are particularly vulnerable to being flushed out by dogs. Read more about this rare and elusive creature here
Outside of nesting season wildlife may still be vulnerable in some places if dogs are running off the paths, for example on wetlands or coastal areas where birds are overwintering (see doggy do code 4) and on heathlands, where wildlife will be getting ready for winter, for example some butterfly and moth species will be changing into chrysalids, attached to vegetation.
Heathland areas are also popular with a species that may be part of the great circle of life but aren't a great favourite with ramblers or dog owners - ticks! - keeping to the paths will help to reduce the risk of picking up ticks and also reduce the risk of your dog unexpectedly bumping into an adder, another heathland species. Adders will move if they hear you approaching but may not have time to move away from a running dog.