Start putting wildlife first

Andy Lesterin Conservation & Ecology

Hampshire is one of the most important counties in the UK for some of our rarer breeding bird, reptile and plant species (goshawk, honey buzzard, Dartford warbler, nightjar, adder, polecat and hobby for example) as well as a vital wintering ground for nationally important numbers of black-tailed godwit, brent goose, wigeon and hen harrier. But our wildlife is under pressure like never before.

Dartford warbler

The biggest challenges facing our birds, plants and reptiles other than habitat destruction and climate change is disturbance. This come is all shapes and sizes; from a small number of wildlife enthusiasts taking pictures at nest sites, through to dogs off leads in sensitive areas and from too many grazing animals in the National Parks, to inadequate predator control.

Some issues are to do with the management and governance of reserves and open areas, but other issues are very much about behaviour.

The challenge, of course, is that disturbance falls in to two categories. The first is inadvertent-where members of the public simply do not have the information to hand to make the right decision. Lack of signage, too few wardens or reserve volunteers can contribute to people and dogs accessing sensitive areas at the wrong time of year-causing ground nesting birds to abandon their eggs of wintering birds to lose vital energy through being repeatedly flushed.

The bigger challenge is the small but increasingly vocal minority of bird-watchers, photographers, cyclists and dog-walkers who are determined to go where they want and when they want. No matter how many signs are erected, and no matter what is said to them politely, there will always be a few who ignore suggestions for best practice.

So what can you do to help this spring? I think there are five actions we need to collectively agree to:

1) Let's keep our dogs on leads in nature reserves and in sensitive areas of our National Parks. It is vital that we only let our dogs loose in designated parks and open areas where wildlife is unlikely to be disturbed.

2) Let's stick to footpaths when we are out walking to avoid damaging or destroying bird nests laid on the ground; or flushing rare wildlife from their territories.

3) Let's put nature before our desire to get amazing close up photos-and not wander off in to areas we know we should not go.

4) Let's report really bad behaviour in our wild spaces to the reserve wardens, park authorities or wildlife crime officers. As the London underground team like to say "See it. Say it. Sort it!"

5) Let's agree to keep noise levels down to ensure other users can really enjoy the natural sounds around them.

Do remember that it is only a minority who deliberately cause trouble; but I hope we can all be ambassadors this year, gently leading the way in putting wildlife before our own interests

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Conservation & ecology