...the start of the bird nesting season.
The countryside of Dorset is a great place to exercise your dog, but we must all ensure that our dog isn't a danger or nuisance to wildlife, farm animals and other people.
By law, you must control your dog so that it does not disturb or scare farm animals or wildlife. On land designated as Open Access Land you must keep your dog on a short lead between 1 March and 31 July when birds are nesting, and all year round near farm animals. By law a short lead means a lead of no more than 2 metres in length. For more information see Open Access
The reason the law asks you to keep your dog on a short lead is to protect rare and endangered birds such as the Nightjar, skylark and dartford warbler that nest on or near the ground.
Most dogs will not harm the birds directly, but a dog running free may scare the birds away from their nests leaving the eggs or chicks vulnerable to other predators such as crows, or to cold. Sometimes if a bird is repeatedly flushed from a nest they may abandon it altogether - this is particularly damaging for species such as the nightjar who raise broods of only 1 or 2 chicks.
Much of the heathland in south east Dorset and the Dorset downland is designated Open Access Land. Some landowners such as the Forestry Commission have dedicated areas of their land as Open Access. This means you have the right to walk on the land and enjoy being outdoors; but with this right comes responsibilities. Visit Dorset Open Access for more information about Open Access in Dorset.
- Open Access Land is marked on Ordnance Survey maps with the Open Access symbol on the front cover. Remember: the maps are not definitive as some land may have been excluded since the maps were produced.
- On some sites the 'brown man walking' sign shows you when you are entering Open Access Land, but not all sites have these signs.
- The on-line maps on the Countryside Access website show the most up-to-date information and include information about any restrictions.
What Can You Do?