By Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

The breeding season for birds is now in full swing – it roughly lasts from March until August – and it’s a crucial time of year for our feathered friends.

If you think of a bird’s nest, you may picture a lofty eyrie in a tree or the side of a cliff or perhaps an intricate roost nestled within a hedge. But lots of birds lay their eggs in nests on the ground and these require extra special protection. 

Many of our ground nesting birds are in worrying decline, including nightjar, woodlark, lapwing and woodcock. As well as habitat loss and climate change, one of the main threats these rare species face is disturbance. 

Naturally, nesting on the ground means our feathered friends and their eggs are incredibly vulnerable to predators. Yet, millennia of evolution have allowed them to evade such threats. One method is camouflage; for example, coastal ground nesting birds lay eggs that are patterned like pebbles among rocks on the shoreline. Other birds are extremely skilled at hiding their nests, like curlews and skylarks, which make hollows in long grasses. 

However, disturbance from humans and, more often, dogs is a key factor in the demise of ground nesting birds. Even the most well-behaved dog can seem like a big, scary predator to a ground nesting bird if wandering off path. Dogs can unwittingly trample eggs or scare adult birds off their nests, leaving chicks vulnerable to cold, starvation and predators.  

How to help

The best way responsible dog walkers can help ground nesting birds when visiting nature reserves during breeding season is to keep dogs on a short lead. 

Other important things you can do to help include: 

Sticking to the footpaths on all our nature reserves. This is especially important in forests, heathlands and coastal areas. 

Respecting the signage at our nature reserves, alerting you to the presence of ground nesting birds. 

If you spot signs of distress from birds (like loud alarm calling, flights back-and-forth or even dive-bombing), back away and take an alternative route. 

Bagging and binning dog poo. Poo can affect wildlife and alter the habitats of ground nesting birds so dispose of it properly. 

Telling others about the need to be aware of ground nesting birds when visiting nature reserves. 

On the Isle of Wight, we are incredibly lucky to have nature reserves, such as Arreton Down and Bouldnor Forest. These are havens for wildlife, including rare ground-nesting birds. 

Please follow these guidelines on all nature reserves.