The RSPB recently published a press release asking for all of us to look out for ground-nesting birds now that the Spring is here, and we can get out and enjoy it. The sentiments are good, and I fully support them because some of our most endangered birds are ground nesting species. One of the most enigmatic of these has to be the curlew, a bird that we are increasingly unlikely to see or, very sadly, hear. Not only do curlew suffer from nest predation by the likes of foxes, but they can be inadvertently flushed off their nests by walkers and/or their dogs.

At the coast little tern can suffer similar problems, while inland the nightjar and lapwing too can be flushed off nests or loose eggs. And although our garden birds tend to nest in hedges, trees, or nest boxes, they too can suffer disturbance from overly zealous hedge trimming, overly tidy gardens or the attention of the local cat population.

Few of us could have failed to have been moved by the plight of Freddie the seal, who sadly had to be euthanised after a horrific dog attack on the banks of the Thames. Freddie had become something of a local celebrity and had often been photographed by passers-by. So, when he was attacked by a dog that was off its lead, it justifiably grabbed the public’s attention. With no cover to hide in, the attack was seen by many and, in doing so, highlighted the threats posed by dogs running free.

Sadly, there was nothing to be done for Freddie, but the hope is that as we get out and about, we all take more care, especially us dog owners. Recent social media posts have shown instances of dogs charging through flocks of waders at the coast, forcing them into the air. Many will think this is harmless, but if food is scarce, the energy used to take flight may be impossible to replace, certainly not quickly. Understandably ground-nesting birds’ eggs are highly camouflaged, which is excellent if you want to stop predators, but not so good for humans clumsily tramping around in the countryside.

During the Spring nesting season, we should all take a little more care, be that in our gardens or the countryside. Wildlife has enough to contend with without us making matters worse by disturbing it. No matter where you are this spring - at the coast, in the woods or in the garden, please take care and particularly take care of your pets. We are eager to get out and about more, and many people have bought dogs as pets during the lockdowns, so there could well be more out being exercised.

Let us hope this is the last lockdown and that we have to endure and that our return to a more normal existence won’t be at the expense of wildlife.

© Phil Pickin