As the weather improves, dog walkers in the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs AONB are being asked to keep their pets on short leads to protect young animals and birds during the breeding season.
Sheep with lambs, ground-nesting birds like skylark and lapwing, and wild creatures such as hares, are easily scared by dogs running free or on extended leads.
Farmland Bird Adviser Tracy Adams said: “Spring and early summer are critical times especially for breeding birds. They need to be undisturbed to give them the best chance of laying a good number of eggs and raising as many chicks as they can, particularly after last year’s disastrous breeding season”
“Birds like lapwing and skylark used to be a common sight in the countryside but they are in decline nationally. We aim to reverse this trend through the South West Farmland Bird Initiative and are working with farmers to provide year-round food and breeding areas across the AONB. This includes cultivated land as well as pasture.”
“Dog-walkers can help protect the birds by keeping their dogs on a short lead on open farmland. I have a big, lively dog and know how nice it is to let him off for a run in a large field but this is precisely the place where lapwing and skylark could be nesting. Unfortunately, many dogs particularly working dogs like spaniels, are programmed to sniff out birds and can have devastating effects on the bird’s breeding success. Disturbing birds whilst they are sitting on eggs can lead to the eggs becoming chilled so the chicks inside die. Repeated disturbance can prevent future nesting attempts”
Dog owners have a responsibility under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act to keep their dogs on a lead around wildlife between March 1 and July 31 and at any time near farm animals. Owners of land who grant permissive access, often funded under conservation schemes, can legally request that dogs be kept leashed; look out for signs on the entry points. These areas have often been created for wildlife and funded by the taxpayer.
To stay safe and help protect wildlife and farm animals:
•Never let a dog approach or chase wildlife and farm - your dog can get kicked, trampled or lost; it could be shot for chasing livestock and you could be prosecuted.
•If cattle turn on your dog, unclip the lead - a dog can usually look after itself, don’t risk getting hurt by trying to protect it. Get out of the field as quickly as possible, then call your dog as soon as you are out of danger.
To report incidents involving dogs on farmland please contact the police on 101. For more information on the South West Farmland Bird Initiative contact Tracy Adams 01725 517417 firstname.lastname@example.org