March marks the start of the ground-nesting bird season and as the pressure from visitors to our open spaces has increased during lockdown, so has the pressure on the creatures that live in them. Dorset’s heaths are home to some of our rarest and most threatened UK birds.
Birds that nest on the ground usually avoid areas near to the busiest paths and byways. However, away from the paths, hidden from plain view, there will be nests, eggs and then chicks from spring through to August.
Heathland birds such as the nightjar caprimulgus europaeus will have flown many miles from their native lands to nest here in the UK. Nightjars fly in from Africa and are on the RSPB Amber conservation list. They are extremely well camouflaged and while this helps to keep them safe from predators it can make them vulnerable from disturbance or destruction from us. While the parent birds are away from the nest searching for food their chicks hunker down, keeping as still and quiet as possible. The casual walker would not spot them and with the influx of people visiting our heathlands significantly increased during the pandemic, so has the pressure on these birds.
Data analysed from the Dorset Open Spaces Survey suggests that the number of people visiting a greenspace at least every other day has increased by 20% since the pandemic began. Restrictions on travel have also meant that many more people are visiting their local heathlands during lockdown, with the number of people accessing some greenspaces by foot increasing by over 200%, according to the data collected.
The Urban Heaths Partnership (UHP) helps to conserve Dorset’s heaths and supports responsible enjoyment. They stress why it’s so important that people keep themselves and their dogs to the official paths during this time. Dogs also need to be kept on leads where requested to do so. Click here for information on alternative places to dog walk.