Threatened birds such as skylarks and curlews, as well as species such as nightjars, willow warblers, oystercatchers and little terns nest on the ground in moors, moors, woodlands, grasslands, beaches and coastal areas.
The Wildlife Trusts’ call to keep dogs on leads to protect fragile nests and eggs was backed by James Brittain-McVey, lead guitarist for The Vamps, dog owner and ambassador for the Coalition of Wildlife Charities.
He said: “I have learned as a rescue dog owner the importance of keeping your dog under control at all times.
“And at this time of year, it’s especially important to remember that we can all play our part in helping birds breed successfully by keeping dogs on short leashes in wild places, especially when so many species are going through such a difficult time.”
James Byrne, Landscape Recovery Program Manager for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Allowing dogs to run wild in nature reserves can be devastating to wildlife, particularly in spring when species are breeding and vulnerable.
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“We ask dog walkers to be sensitive by keeping their pets on short leashes, staying on paths and disposing of dog waste properly.
“Wildlife is already under enormous pressure – let’s keep all dogs under control so we don’t make matters worse.”
Nests and young on the ground may be at risk of disturbance, trampling or other damage.
Keeping dogs under control can also protect wildlife, from snakes to seals, as well as livestock like sheep.
Dogs disturbed seals at the Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s South Walney nature reserves earlier this year and the charity fears seal numbers are down.
Other wildlife trusts have encountered problems with dogs chasing grazing cattle, with several sheep recently attacked at a nature reserve run by Gwent Wildlife Trust in South Wales.
The Wildlife Trusts stresses that dogs must be kept on a leash of no more than two meters between March 1 and July 31 on open access land to protect ground-nesting birds.
And some beaches have cordoned off areas to protect some of the rarest bird nests – but charities say it’s best to keep dogs on a leash on all beaches and in the wider countryside until the chicks have fledged in September.
Some trusts also ask dog walkers to avoid some of their nature reserves because the wildlife there is too rare or fragile and requires special protection. Visitors should therefore check an individual reserve’s website before visiting for the first time.
The trusts also said dogs should be leashed around grazing animals, although it’s safer to leave your dog off-leash if you’re being chased by cows or horses.