'Paws' for thought to help wildlife this spring

, 26 March 2024
'Paws' for thought to help wildlife this spring
© Richard Cobden

It’s nesting season – but did you know that not all birds nest in trees? Many species nest on or close to the ground, from coastal seabirds to wetland waders and ‘farmland’ birds like Lapwing and Skylark. They rely heavily on camouflage to keep their nests and eggs safe from predators, but there is a downside to being so well hidden: their nests are easily trodden on. 

This can be a disaster, especially for the birds that migrate many thousands of miles to nest here in the spring, possibly destroying their only opportunity to raise a brood successfully.

Hard to spot: Ringed Plover eggs blend perfectly into the shingle © Barry Yates

To give nesting birds the best chance possible, we’re asking people to stick to footpaths and keep dogs on leads this spring.

One in three households in the UK now has a dog, which can be a fantastic incentive to get outdoors and explore your local wild places – but it also puts extra pressure on vulnerable wildlife. Even the friendliest dog will be viewed as a predator, and in popular walking areas the constant disturbance caused by passing dogs can be enough to prevent birds nesting successfully, even if no direct damage is done.

That said, there are plenty of dog lovers here at Sussex Wildlife Trust and we asked colleagues how they enjoy wildlife-friendly walks with their dogs.

Charlotte and Rory:

“We do most of our off-lead walking at the local park or along the beach at low tide when there’s plenty of space. As a high-energy dog he loves a good run, and these are the most appropriate places for him to run free. A reliable recall is a must, and we avoid areas where gulls are feeding or roosting. When we visit wilder places, he’s often on a lead. A calm ‘sniffy’ walk tires him out more than running, and 20 minutes of sniffing is equivalent to an hour’s walk. Combining both usually means he’s happily asleep for the rest of the day!”

Richard and Bonnie:

“Talking to other dog owners about the wildlife you can see in the area really helps people understand what lives on the nature reserve, and makes it easier to explain why dogs bulldozing through the Bluebells might not be the best idea. Hopefully they will then have similar conversations with others.”

Gemma and Millie:

“Anyone who meets our family rescue spaniel will instantly fall in love with her cute looks and submissive nature. However, she naturally has a very high prey drive so we’re extra careful when out on walks and she is rarely off-lead. She still gets her physical exercise and long-line walks in appropriate places, as well as occasional hire of secure dog-fields where she can run free, plus other enrichment like brain games and scent work.”

Henri and Joey:

“Joey is only four months old so I’m really enjoying training him in the things that will make walking in the countryside more straightforward in the future. At the moment we are focusing on recall when there are other exciting distractions going on, like a bicycle, or another dog, or a bee! He’s always on a lead around livestock but I also want to make sure he doesn’t get overexcited at the sight of sheep or cows. He used to bark but I take him on walks past sheep every day now so that he has stopped being so interested in them.”

Louise and Harvey:

"Being a young and excitable dog, we pick times for our wild walks when locations are less busy, so we can go to places like Birling Gap on a grey drizzly day with very few people about. We keep him on his long lead, which gives him some freedom but makes sure he doesn't head for the cliff edge while exploring."

Caroline and Boomer:

“I love walking in the beautiful fields and woodland in Sussex but it’s sad to see poo bags dangling from tree branches or left in piles on the ground. We always have bio-degradable poo bags at the ready and, if there isn’t a special bin, take it home so that we leave Sussex's special places exactly as we found them.”

We also spoke to Dr Jenna Kiddie, Head of Canine Behaviour at Dogs Trust:

“Dogs enrich our lives, but they also bring a level of responsibility. Whilst many of us enjoy taking our dogs for long walks, especially as it becomes a bit warmer, we urge dog owners to consider their surroundings, particularly when visiting areas where they might encounter wildlife. When visiting rural areas, owners should keep their dogs under control and ensure they do not worry other animals or stray from the path, as well as dispose of their dog's waste appropriately. We would advise keeping your dog on a short lead, and close to you, especially whenever livestock are nearby. It is important to remember that chasing is normal dog behaviour, and that any dog is capable of chasing, irrelevant of breed, type, age, or size.”

With that in mind, there’s plenty we can do to make sure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience - on two legs or four. Wherever your next walk takes you, remember to ‘paws for thought’ to help wildlife thrive this spring.

Find out more about dogs on Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserves.

© Charlotte Owen

Leave a comment


  • Pam Keeble:

    Sadly many dog owners do not think that any rules apply to them. A intelligent good friend of mine thinks nothing of letting his dog into a field with sheep even though the sign says “dogs on leads” . I am 86 and have been pushed over by two friendly dogs jumping on my back! Also attacked on the downs by another dog off lead who came at me from 50 yards away. In both cases no apology. I love animals but I do get frustrated with the attitude that their dog can do no wrong.

    28 Mar 2024 14:11:00

  • Dorothy:

    Like Pam I have been knocked over and attacked by dogs with no word of apology. Although most dog owners are courteous many of them are still unable to control their dogs. I walk every week at Old Lodge nature reserve and often see dogs off lead in the breeding season. The owners always tell me that there are no notices even though there are! I think we need larger print and pictures to target these owners.

    29 Mar 2024 07:31:00

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    Old Lodge nature reserve does have notices on the entrances stating dogs must be kept on a short, fixed lead, between 1st January until 30th September.

  • Barnaby Green:

    Thanks for this. Let’s hope heard and adhered to.

    02 Apr 2024 10:23:00