One of the country’s leading wildlife charities is launching a Spring initiative to try to save endangered birds.
More than half of the nation’s most threatened species tend to nest on, or close to, the ground, including the curlew, little tern, nightjar and lapwing.
Experts warn they will often use clever camouflage techniques to defend themselves from natural predators. In doing so, it’s easy for people to damage nesting sites as they don’t always spot where they are – until it’s too late.
The RSPB is mounting its ‘Watch Your Step’ countryside campaign to raise awareness to try to protect some of the nation’s most threatened breeding species.
‘If you ask a child where bird’s nest, they are likely to say a tree, hedge or nest box,’ explains Sara Humphrey, RSPB Communications Manager.
‘It’s an image we’ve all grown up with but for some of our most threatened species it’s simply not true.’
Almost half of the UK population have said they have tried to attract nature to their gardens and the RSPB is keen to highlight that many of our threatened species don’t use gardens or nest boxes when raising young.
‘Almost every natural habitat in the English countryside can be home to ground nesting birds and these threatened species are under increasing pressure due to habitat loss, predators and climate change.’
‘Yet we can all help protect them from disturbance by simply following the Countryside Code and keeping to footpaths.’
Birds nesting on the ground are at higher risk from predators. As such, nests and eggs are often extremely well camouflaged which makes them hard to see and to avoid.
‘A skylark egg can be as small as 17mm, that’s around the width of a 5p piece. And when those eggs hatch, chicks can be just as well camouflaged and vulnerable,’ says Mike Shurmer, Head of Species for RSPB England.
‘When scared, a chick’s instinct is often to stay quiet and avoid detection, so if you see an adult bird calling out in distress or trying to catch your attention, back away carefully to help protect nests from harm.’
Many coastal areas can be home to ground nesting birds. These may include the little tern, ringed plover and oystercatchers which often nest near the tide’s edge.
These vulnerable birds are easy prey for lots of predators and the charity is warning that dogs running through nesting sites can be very stressful for breeding birds – and alarm calls by parent birds will often attract the attention of predators.
Wetlands are vital for wading species including lapwing and redshank. These species make their nests in grassy pastures before they lead chicks to wetter areas to feed.
Young hatchlings are more at risk to disturbance, getting cold and the impacts from predators when separated from parent birds.
Rare birds, like the woodlark and the nightjar, nest on heathland sites, which are often popular places to walk, cycle, horse ride and to picnic on. The charity is asking people to stick to footpaths to help keep chicks safe.
Recent heath fires highlight the dangers which wildlife faces during the hotter summer months and the charity says people should pack a picnic rather than light a BBQ.
Uplands and moors are vital homes to ground nesting birds including curlew, lapwing, golden plover and snipe. The hen harrier, one of the UK’s most threatened birds of prey can also be found nesting at ground level in some upland areas.
The RSPB’s conservation scientists continue to develop methods to help protect nesting birds from environmental threats.
They say that managing the landscape is leading to some fantastic results for species, including the roseate tern and stone curlew. Experts believe everyone can play a part in helping to protect ground nesting birds – simply by watching where they step.
The charity currently has a network of more than 300 nature reserves across the country.
Photographs supplied by the RSPB, with courtesy credits to Mark Hamblin and Kevin Sawford.