Dog walkers asked to help threatened birds

Wednesday 16th March 2016

Yellowhammer (c) Pete WalkdenYellowhammer (c) Pete Walkden

Rare birds are starting to return to a popular heathland and visitors are asked to help keep them coming.

Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, which owns The Devil’s Spittleful between Bewdley and Kidderminster, say that numbers of nesting birds on the nature reserve were up last year. This is in part due to improvements the conservation charity has made but can also be attributed to a reduction in disturbance from visitors and dogs.

Over the last few years, the Trust has undertaken a programme of work to improve the habitat on the nature reserve for wildlife. They’ve also been pro-active in reducing the number of visitors who let their dogs run through the landscape.

Yellowhammers, whitethroats and nightjars

Nightjar (c) Neil AldridgeAndy Harris, conservation officer responsible for the reserve, explained “Last year was great for birds at The Devil’s Spittleful with increased numbers of yellowhammers and common whitethroats breeding across the reserve.

“Even better, though, were a couple of reports of nightjars in the area. Nightjars nest on the ground on heathlands and used to breed right here on the reserve. However, in common with populations around the UK, they have suffered huge declines as heathlands have been lost or become fragmented.

“To hear them here last year was great news – it means that all our work to improve the heathland is working. We also need to thank all the dogwalkers who kept to the paths around the site and kept their dogs on leads; even the friendliest and gentlest of dogs noseying through the heather and grasses will unintentionally disturb wildlife.”

Sensitive to disturbance

Common lizard (c) Amy LewisWhilst many birds, such as nightjar, skylark, meadow pipit and woodcock, nest on the ground, other species such as stonechat, woodlark, grass snake and common lizard are also sensitive to disturbance. Many birds will abandon nests if they feel threatened or are disturbed.

The Trust removed many of the young silver birch trees on the nature reserve more than three years ago to maintain the open nature of the heathland and encourage a wider variety of plants to grow, which in turn support a wide variety of wildlife.

The Trust also closes some paths to visitors during the nesting period, from March to August. This seemingly long period ensures that both early and late nesting birds are given the maximum chance to raise successful broods.

Andy continued “We welcome responsible dog walkers onto most of our nature reserves but would like to remind people to keep to established paths and don’t allow dogs off the lead, especially during this critical period for our wildlife.”

“Whilst most visitors are happy to help us help wildlife, we did experience some vandalism of our signage last year. All incidents are reported to the police.”

The Devil’s Spittleful and adjacent Rifle Range nature reserve, owned and managed by Wyre Forest District Council, are grazed by sheep and cattle between April and November. This prevents competitive plants such as coarse grasses, brambles and trees from taking over and ensures the health of the heath.

Tagged with: Species, Devil's Spittleful