Dogs and Birds around our Coastline

Dogs and Birds around our Winter Coasts

Poole Harbour – a special place for all sorts of birds

During the autumn and winter Dorset Dogs works in partnership with the Bird and Recreation Initiative (BARI) raising awareness of the special birds that overwinter in Poole Harbour. You may have seen flocks of black-and-white Oystercatchers around Poole Harbour, you’ll often see them in nearby parks and on grassy verges too. There are many other birds that overwinter around the harbour and other Dorset shorelines, some of them are rare species that are really struggling to survive.

Why do the birds need your help?

As Poole Harbour becomes busier its harder for birds to feed and rest without being disturbed as so many people use the coastline. Moving or flying away when disturbed costs the birds vital energy that can take a long time to replace. Short day light hours mean the birds have short feeding windows, so time is precious. Many species have long migration journeys to make after winter, so need to build up their energy stores to survive the flight back to their breeding grounds.

Become a Coastwise Canine

Simple things we can do to help harbour birds survive and thrive:

DO protect flocks of overwintering birds:

Keep your distance and use a lead if your dog chases birds. Birds see dogs as predators, so keeping your distance and using a lead if you need helps to reduce stress and disturbance. It may not seem like a big deal but if dogs run close to or chase flocks of birds that are overwintering or migrating it can affect their future chances of staying healthy enough to survive and breed, especially if they are already exhausted or short of food.

DO walk higher up the beach during the low tide so birds can keep feeding.

Or swap a low tide walk for a high tide one helps avoid the birds vital feeding time. Make a difference by keeping your distance. Some birds are flightier than others, and whilst for some a short disturbance may not do much harm for others it could be the final straw – and we can’t tell which is which – so try to keep yourself and your dog at a reasonable distance away so that the flock does not have to take flight.

Other things like bait digging, kayaking, fishing and all sorts of other activities can make them take flight – so it’s not just us who are being asked to keep our distance with our dogs.

DO avoid disturbing the birds in key areas from November to March.

If you see birds resting or feeding, take a different route to avoid disturbing them, birds are aware of your presence even from a distance. Think about other places you might like to visit while the flocks are there.

Dorset Dogs has produced an updated leaflet ‘Enjoying Dorset with your Dog’ with 75 suggestions for places you can enjoy walking with your dog – you can pick this up from local libraries and information centres, at our events or check out the ‘Out & About’ pages.

Photo credits: F Gamble and The Bird and Recreation Initiative.

All year round we can see some fabulous birds around Poole Harbour; Cormorants perched on the skeletal wrecks of little boats, Little Egrets stalking the mud flats with their surprising yellow feet, swans massing in floating drifts across quieter bays or – if we’re lucky – rare terns mobbing and diving right next to the Sandbanks Ferry.

Useful links for more information:

Love Dogs…Love Nature Around Poole Harbour

A joint leaflet by Dorset Dogs and the Bird and Recreation Initiative with information specially put together for you and your dog! The leaflet shows you some of the birds and tells us how we can help them to survive.

Click here to view the leaflet »

Poole Harbour Trails

Find out about walking around Poole Harbour at

Visiting Studland Bay with your Dog
Jurassic Bark (Hive Beach / Burton Bradstock)
Marine and Coastal Wildlife Code

Marine and coastal wildlife code: advice for visitors – GOV.UK (

Also available: Bird Disturbance Study Poole Harbour – scientific study by Footprint Ecology and Bird Disturbance Study Poole Harbour – Map Annex available in Guidance, Reports and Evidence of Best Practice