Conservation diary: Ground nesting birds need your help!

The breeding season between 1 March to 31 July is a particularly sensitive time of year for ground nesting birds.

We need your help in ensuring chiff-chaffs, black caps, meadow pipit, yellow wagtails, redshank, snipe, lapwings and swans – amongst others! – are able to lay and protect their eggs safely.

If birds are disturbed these birds can be prevented from roosting in the first place, or end up in flying away from the nests, abandoning their eggs or chicks. For this month’s blog, I’d like to share some facts that will hopefully help spread awareness of how to ensure the birds nest undisturbed.

Disturbance may result in:

  • Eggs failing to hatch
  • Chicks dying from lack of food or cold weather
  • Birds failing to nest
  • Nests becoming more vulnerable to predators

FACT: All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 whilst they are actively nesting or roosting.

FACT: It is a criminal offence to disturb rare breeding birds, including Peregrine Falcons, Merlins and Hen Harriers. This includes disturbance by your dog.

Recognising a disturbed or distressed bird:

  • They will make a loud repeated alarm call.
  • They will come much closer than usual – some birds will dive-bomb you. These are signs that the birds feel threatened by your presence and you should back away.
  • The bird may display subtle behaviour by circling directly above you.
  • The bird may feign injury to try to distract you from the nest.

Finally, here’s three things  you can do to help during ground nesting bird season (1 March to 31 July).

Recognising a disturbed or distressed bird:

1. Please stick to permissive tracks and paths – especially where there is dense scrub like blackthorn, bramble and bracken.

2. Provide plenty of room to young birds and adults that seem to be distressed. Proceed away quietly and swiftly.

3. Above all, please keep your dog on a lead.

Your help is invaluable in helping Dartington’s conservation programmes. Thank you!





4 thoughts on “Conservation diary: Ground nesting birds need your help!

  1. Re Ground Nesting Birds.
    I have walked the Dartington Estate for many years and this is the first year I have not heard any Skylarks over the pastures. In fact there is a lack of the normal community of ground nesting birds in most of the meadows. This has almost certainly been caused by the destruction of the rough pasture habitat by the rotational grazing, from field to field, of the large flock of sheep (some 200) during the winter months. Fields that were rich in areas of rough tussock and upstanding weeds have been reduced to flat over grazed lawns. The fields now offer no shelter or hidden nesting sites for birds such as Skylarks. The old system of rough grazing cattle on these field had produced a perfect environment for ground nesting species which is now gone.

    I hope the estate will consider the consequences of this change of husbandry on the pastures and move to limit the impact of over grazing by sheep in the future. The estate rightly asks dog owners to be aware of the impact they may have on birds but has, this winter, overseen the destruction of many hectares of what was a rich and diverse rough pasture environment for both birds and small mammals.

    1. Hi there, sorry for the delay getting back to you. We approached our Estate Manager John Channon who had this to say:

      Up until September 2014, the majority of the fields were fertilised and sprayed annually. The farm is now managed on an ‘organic equivalent’ basis. Most arable fields have been left as winter stubbles – something which most experts agree is very beneficial to a wide range of species. The RSPB have visited the estate on a couple of occasions recently and have congratulated us on the new management regime, particularly with regard to winter stubbles which has attracted Cirl Buntings, a target species for them.

      The only ‘rough’ grazing was in the few designated conservation areas, such as Bram’s Patch and Berryman’s Marsh. The remaining pastures were tightly managed by the previous tenant. In fact, rather than destroying the pastures as has been suggested, both the flora and fauna will benefit from the withdrawal of sprays and fertilisers over the years.

      The new regime has also had a noticeable positive impact on the number of butterflies and other nectaring insects.It is true the sheep grazing over the winter period will have kept the sward in check and we would be happy to talk to the RSPB about the possible knock-on effect on ground nesting birds.

  2. It is a shame that dartington let hedges be destroyed in dartington when cirl buntings had been reported. And they are now taking more hedges etc out at brim hay near to the sawmill/ webber yard buildings /hedges where they were photgraphed

    1. Hi Carole, thanks for your comments. We have been asked about hedgerow removal at Sawmills before and hopefully this page will explain a bit more why this has happened. We take wildlife conservation extremely seriously and hedgerow preservation is no exception – you can read more about our work on this here. Our work restoring and planting up hedgerows at Sneezle’s Prairie (behind Old Parsonage Farm) has also now been ongoing for over five years.

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