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Though sadly, research shows that well over 50% of coastal bird disturbance involves a dog, especially dogs which are off the lead. So dogs have a big part to play in helping our birds . . . and the roe deer too. Wildlife see dogs in the same way as they see any predator, so simply put, our dogs scare the wildlife. Dogs themselves are not doing anything wrong, they are just doing what comes naturally.
So they need our help to do the right thing.
All your dog has to do is follow four simple pledges. This will make Portbury Wharf somewhere safe and really special for wildlife!
I will keep to the paths on the nature reserve
There are a lot of creatures which live close to the paths. My owners don’t see them but I know they are there. I can still have a sniff and runabout on the path without disturbing the wildlife feeding close by.
PS it is not just the wildlife that I can scare, some humans are also terrified of me. I don't know why because I won't hurt them, but they don't know that. So I am a friend to them as well and I don't run towards them.
I will stay by the sea wall on the salt marsh
If I roam onto the salt marsh I will stop endangered birds from feeding. So because of me they will waste precious energy flying away. As it is they have to spend most of their time feeding just to get enough food to survive. The salt marsh rarely freezes so it is a hugely important winter feeding area for wildlife.
So I can help them by keeping my distance. I have to be extra careful at high tide when there is less space for them to feed, rest and stay safe.
I won’t swim in the rhynes and pools
The rhynes (drainage ditches) and pools are where hundreds of amphibians, insects and even mammals live and breed.
Sometimes I smell the water voles as they forage for food along the banks. Like the great crested newts they are so rare they are protected by UK law. So I stay away from the water to keep them all safe.
Another good reason to stay clear of the water are the Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs). Did you know you can be fined if us dogs go into the water in the Ecology Park? It is also a fineable offence if you don’t keep us under close control, carry a poo bag and pick up and dispose of our poo! You might want to check the details at http://www.n-somerset.gov.uk/my-services/community-safety-crime/public-space-protection-orders/dog-control.
I won’t chase the wildlife
The birds need all of their time to feed, preen and rest in order to survive the winter. Many shorebirds need to eat about a third of their weight in food every day. So they cannot afford to lose precious feeding time or waste energy flying away from me.
It is tempting to chase the deer but I can still harm them even if I can’t catch them. Young deer and pregnant mothers are especially vulnerable.
No unfortunately it isn’t okay. The wildlife on the salt marsh makes a good job of being invisible. While we may not see them they will be watching us. Dogs especially attract a lot of attention from the roe deer. They will be watching our dogs walking along the sea wall until we disappear out of sight. Because dogs chase them they always keep a wary eye on them. They know that if the dogs come too close they will have to make a run for it.
If the deer can make themselves invisible here, there is no chance of seeing small wading birds. You will usually only see these when they fly off and by then it is too late.
It is not uncommon to watch walkers and dogs unwittingly disturb wildlife here. Roe deer and birds will often flee unnoticed by people admiring the view or on their mobiles.
The plants underfoot are rather special too! They can tolerate regular “drowning” in salt water. These are highly nutritious to wildlife and even rather interesting. For example see how Sea Scurvy Grass got its name on our Salt Marsh page.
Yes it really does matter! Somewhere else may be just as busy* and there are not that many areas they can feed. Continual disturbance will put their survival at risk. So in the end they may be too cold and exhausted to find somewhere else to go. So Portbury Wharf may be their last hope.
Skylarks nesting on the salt marsh are not just vulnerable to high spring tides but to us too. If disturbed they are likely to abandon nests and chicks.
* a recent 3-year study, the Coming Home to Roost project, monitored high-tide waterbird roosts upstream of Portbury Wharf. It showed that over 50% of the sites monitored had medium to very high levels of disturbance.
Dogs might find it fun to chase wildlife but for the wildlife it is a matter of life and death. Escaping from predators wastes valuable time and energy. Coastal birds have to spend most of their time feeding. Many need to eat a third of their body weight each day to survive.
Chasing a pregnant roe deer, or a mother with young, could result in unforeseen fatalities. For example the mother could abort and a fawn may not be able to outrun a dog.
Swans and other large birds are too big and clumsy to take off quickly. So they are vulnerable to attack from foxes and dogs.
Unfortunately it will! Many species feed and breed in these watery worlds including Water Voles and Great Crested Newts. Both are so rare they are protected under UK law. So dogs swimming here will stop them from feeding and breeding. Water voles have to eat 90% of their own body weight each day; more if they are pregnant.
WILDLIFE ONLY areas. Please remember the Sanctuary, fields and pools are not for people or dogs.
References and related reading:
Some of the other dog ranger schemes in the UK:
Studies on coastal bird disturbance: