Dorset Wildlife Trust urges the public to follow wildlife safety advice on nature reserves

Dog information sign at Tadnoll Nature Reserve

Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) has received reports of visitors not abiding by the guidance displayed on signage whilst using its nature reserves in Dorset. Visitors are increasingly using nature reserves near to their homes as part of their exercise during lockdown measures taken to stop the spread of Covid-19. Dorset's largest conservation charity is also concerned about the high risk of fire on its nature reserves, following several in the county in recent weeks.

Reports include dog owners letting their dogs off leads, and visitors getting too close to livestock whilst using Upton Heath nature reserve.  These reports are particularly concerning as the bird nesting season has just started.  Threatened and rare bird species such as the Dartford warbler* and nightjar are known to nest on the ground of heathland nature reserves and are particularly susceptible to disturbance.  

We are also shocked and saddened to hear of the far-reaching devastation caused to Wareham Forest following a fire which was suspected to be caused by a BBQ. We advise people not to use disposable BBQs on any heathlands or dry areas. In this heat, fire spreads incredibly quickly. Since the start of lockdown, DWT has experienced two fires, one on Upton Heath and one on Winfrith Heath.  As Dorset’s largest conservation charity DWT would like to remind visitors that BBQ’s are NOT permitted on any of its 42 nature reserves across Dorset. 

Dorset Wildlife Trust Chief Executive, Brian Bleese said, “We understand that people are using wild spaces more than ever to look after their physical and mental health at this uncertain time.  But we are pleading with local people to comply with the guidance which is displayed clearly at the entrances to our nature reserves, so they know to keep their dogs on leads and be aware that livestock is present on the site.  Not keeping dogs on leads, leaving paths, and disturbing sensitive habitat during the spring and summer could have a significant effect on populations of rare and threatened birds in the coming years. Please take extra care not to disturb livestock, wildlife and especially at this time of the year, nesting birds.”  

In 2019 DWT upgraded signage on selected nature reserves in Dorset, pleading with the public to keep dogs on leads to avoid harming wildlife and other animals that live there, such as cattle.  

Brian added, “We are asking people to use the rights of way on nature reserves responsibly at this time and consider the wildlife that lives there.  Outside space will have huge benefits to people right now, and we are pleased to be able to provide some fantastic natural areas for people to get exercise, but we can’t forget the reason these sites exist to begin with – for the benefit of wildlife.”  

DWT is also concerned about a potential increase in anti-social behaviour on nature reserves and has already seen an increase in issues which require a response from wardens.  The public following the guidelines for the safe use of nature reserves will help our wardens reduce the number of journeys they need to make over the coming weeks, so we can all be supporting government policy at this difficult time.  

DWT is asking that people visiting nature reserves close to their homes adhere to social distancing and return to the site another time if people are congregating there.  All DWT Centres and car parks have been closed in line with government guidance and all events in April and May have been cancelled. 

DWT has 42 nature reserves across Dorset. Dogs are not permitted on: Broad Oak Orchard, Brownsea Island, Bugdens Meadow, Girdlers Coppice & King’s Lane Orchard.  Reserves with variable zoned dog access are: Happy Bottom, Lorton Meadows, Upton Heath & West Bexington.  On all other DWT nature reserves, please keep dogs on a short lead at all times. Click here for information and guidance about dogs on nature reserves.