Little Ringed Plover. Photo: Derek Moore.

How to control your pets to protect spring wildlife


By Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

Cover photo, Little Ringed Plover, by Derek Moore.

Staffordshire Wildlife Trust urge dog owners to keep their pets on short leads now that birds are nesting, species are emerging from hibernation, and to protect grazing livestock. 

Experts say dogs running loose are one of the biggest causes of wildlife disturbance. Ground-nesting birds such as curlew, ringed plovers, and skylark, are particularly at risk.

Research shows that 66% of ground-nesting birds are in decline in the UK, compared to 31% of other species.  

Dogs can also be a threat to sheep, cows and other grazing livestock. Problems are regularly reported on land owned by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. Dog poo, also, is dangerous for wildlife as it can carry diseases, scare away animals, and add damaging nutrients that affect the natural balance of soils and fragile habitats. 

Dog owners can help wildlife if they: 

  • Keep dogs on short leads on nature reserves and in the wider countryside 
  • Clean up and dispose of dog poo in bins or at home 
  • Avoid using nature reserves if walking large groups of dogs  

Many of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves welcome responsible dog walkers, but instances of dogs disturbing wildlife and livestock have led the charity to issue a plea ahead of spring. Wild places with particularly sensitive habitats or species may also be closed to dogs. 

Jeff Sim, Head of Reserves for Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, said: “It’s great that so many people benefit from enjoying beautiful natural areas while out walking their dogs, but we must urge responsibility. Wildlife is suffering huge declines and dogs in wild places can cause problems, especially from February through to the end of summer when many species are breeding. I’m a dog owner but never walk her without a lead during nesting season. It’s not only the impact on ground-nesting birds, but other wildlife including amphibians and mammals can be affected, as well as grazing livestock.”

The impacts of loose dogs in wild places include trampling nests and scaring adult birds away from their young. Vulnerable chicks can perish if left alone for too long.

Disturbances can also affect feeding and foraging behaviour and the emergence of common lizards and grass snakes found on heathland reserves, wildlife is less likely to breed and feed in areas where dogs are encountered.

The law states you must keep your dog on a lead no longer than two metres between 1st March and 31st July when on any open access land to protect ground-nesting birds.

Find out more about how to be a nature-friendly pet owner here: The Wildlife Trusts.

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