On behalf of the birds, I would like to say a big "Thank You" to all those dog walkers who cooperated with us at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve this season.
In the spring we set about contacting dog-owners in order to get their co-operation with a dogs-on-leads policy along key sections of path. We sent out press releases and put up signs, but before all that, I made a point of talking to every dog walker I met. I didn't expect a very positive response when all of our signs were vandalised immediately, but I was encouraged by the attitude of the majority of those dog walkers that I met. Once they understood the problem for ground-nesting birds, they agreed to either put their dogs on leads or to use another path.
After a bit of negotiation with the dog owners themselves, I settled on only two sections of path where we have a lot of visitor pressure close to high densities of birds. The result was beneficial for wildlife (18 nightingales sang next to the path on the Heron Trail) and it was good for our visitors as we experienced less dog fouling and fewer incidents or complaints from the public.
After two years of drought and this year's wet spring, I'm still worried about falling numbers of nightingales and other summer migrants, but I'm hoping that they will produce a bumper crop of youngsters this year. The first signs are good because the bushes are full of the squeaks and churrs made by young birds, but it is not possible to really know how good or bad a year it has been at this stage. We have conducted our annual breeding bird survey and a specially intense nocturnal nightingale survey but neither of these gives a figure for productivity. Our bird ringing scheme will give us some comparison with the number of young birds caught in previous years, but the results aren't in yet.
The whole point of a nature reserve is to act as a "nature reservoir" that can produce an abundance of wildlife to populate the surrounding area and beyond. It is also a place where people can learn about and enjoy nature, so I was a bit taken aback at the low level of knowledge displayed by some dog-walkers who come to the Reserve every day. Some didn't know the names of the lakes or the paths and they were vague about where the reserve starts and ends. It shows that I haven't been doing my job in getting the message across to all of our visitors!
I'm hoping we can do even better during next year's breeding season with something near 100% compliance, but we were really pleased with this year's response. Thanks again!