Protecting nesting birds on Dorset heaths

Protecting nesting birds on Dorset heaths

From March to July, people are asked to keep dogs on leads and stay on the paths to protect nesting birds on Dorset's heaths. Our guest author, Dr Lesley Haskins tells us about these special birds and why they need protecting.

Dorset heathland birds have adopted rather different life patterns. Nightjars leave our shores in the autumn for warmer climes and only come back in the spring. Dartford warblers (unlike many other warblers) opt to brazen it out and stay with us over the winter – from time to time suffering heavy population declines when we have very snowy winters. Woodlarks appear to ‘mix and match’ depending on where they are – in Dorset, populations generally stay with us although tend to move off the heath to farmland in the winter, whilst further east they may migrate abroad.


Banner to encourage people to keep to paths and use a short lead for dogs

Lesley Haskins

But in the summer, all our special heathland birds have one critical thing in common. On this generally treeless landscape, these rare birds all nest and lay their eggs on the ground, often close to paths. Any dog having a natural rootle around in the heather may well scare them off their nests which makes the eggs or chicks very vulnerable to failure or predation. So to protect these very special birds on Dorset's heaths, it is critical to keep to main paths and have our dogs on a lead in the summer. Heathland managers usually put notices up in the spring but this year, large eye-catching banners have been produced to remind us how very important it is to protect our heathland birds. Nothing is more distressing than seeing a nightjar fly up as a result of disturbance and know that the huge effort the bird has made to fly back all the way from Africa has been in vain!