Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Dogs Trust are encouraging owners to keep their pooches on leads during nesting season from now until August.

Visits to nature reserves, woodland and the wider countryside are relished in spring but it’s a busy time for our wildlife too, even at ground level.

Skylarks, lapwings, meadow pipits and woodcock, as well as robins, dunnocks and nightjars, all nest close to the ground. Springtime brings with it the arrival of migratory visitors too which have travelled thousands of miles with the intention of nesting across our countryside.

Many birds nesting on or close to the ground are particularly vulnerable to disturbance from dogs. This can lead to them abandoning their nests and losing their eggs or chicks: 66 per cent of ground-nesting birds including curlew are in decline and disturbance by dogs can make it even harder for them to survive.

Unsupervised dogs can sadly unintentionally cause harm or disturbance and it is vital that they are kept under very close control.

Off-lead dogs have also been known to go for the occasional swim in ponds, rivers and other waterbodies.

These are home to wildlife that dogs can disturb, such as voles, otters and newts, and there is also a risk of your pet getting injured.

Dogs may also pollute waterbodies with insecticides used in flea treatments – these are extremely harmful to aquatic life.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s reserve assistant Becky Dennison said: “Nesting and fledgling birds are particularly vulnerable to disturbance - the eggs of the willow warbler are so tiny that they can be snaffled up or crushed in a moment without the owner noticing, and scaring a bird away from its eggs in poor or cold weather can lead to the eggs or chicks chilling to death very quickly.

"We implore everyone to please keep your dogs on leads, especially in spring when wildlife is at its most vulnerable; please do not allow them to run through the woodland undergrowth and out of sight or there is a very real risk that our spring woodlands could fall silent from much of their most beautiful birdsong."

Many dog owners are passionate about nature and want to avoid harming it.

However, even the most well-behaved dogs can unintentionally cause distress or damage wildlife, simply by following their natural curiosity.

Birds perceive dogs as predators; when dogs roam freely, birds may abandon their nests, leaving eggs and chicks cold and unprotected.

From designated walking paths to understanding wildlife seasons, there's plenty we can do to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience – on two legs or four.”

Responsible dog owners can help wildlife if they:

  • Keep dogs on short leads on nature reserves and in the wider countryside
  • Only visit reserves with dogs under control where they are permitted and always keep to paths. Nature reserves are rare places where wildlife is given the priority.
  • Clean up after animals and dispose of dog waste in bins or at home. Dog waste is dangerous for wildlife as it can carry diseases, scare away animals and increases nutrients in soils above healthy levels, affecting the natural balance of fragile habitats.
  • Prevent dogs jumping in ponds; this can disturb aquatic wildlife, and insecticides found in dog flea treatments pollute waterways and kill wildlife too.


Q: My dog is well-behaved, has a great recall and gets on with other animals; why do I still need to be careful on nature reserves?

A: Keeping your dog close on a short lead helps to minimise distress and disturbance caused to wildlife. If your dog is off the lead and out of sight it may well be causing disturbance to wildlife, which can cause a reduction in breeding success and ultimately a decrease in population numbers.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust welcomes a wide variety of visitors to their nature reserves, from wildlife enthusiasts to school groups. It’s important to be aware that dogs can also scare other users even unintentionally.

Q: I have a guide-dog – can you advise on how accessible Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves are?

A: Check the reserve’s website for up-to-date information about accessibility and each site’s particular requirements before you set off to visit. If you see someone with an assistance dog, please remember they are not pets and are highly trained which means they will not wander freely around a reserve, will remain with their owner at all times and are unlikely to foul in a public place.