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 we need to keep our dogs 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 Out & About 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 spring’s a good time to explore the local area & find alternative places to visit if it’s for an off-lead runaround.
Nightjars can be found nesting on some of the heaths in Dorset and are particularly vulnerable to being flushed out by dogs, examples of other vulnerable birds that nest either on the ground or lowdown include Woodlarks, Dartford Warblers, Curlews, Lapwings and Skylarks.
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, so we need to be careful not to let our dogs get too close and send flocks up and look out for signs that keep us informed about the local wildlife too. Find out more about overwintering birds here.
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.