Taking a lead - Wildlife and dogs at Cemlyn

A key role for the Cemlyn wardens is engaging with the visiting public and this often involves advising on dog walking. Here we consider some of the impacts of dogs on wildlife.

Making space for wildlife

Many of us love dogs and like them to have the freedom to roam freely in open spaces. However, this can have serious consequences for our wildlife. We have read with interest the reports from several organisations, including the Snowdonia National Park of how, during lockdown, birds have nested close to normally busy footpaths. With far fewer visitors the birds have benefited from the lack of  disturbance. At Cemlyn we have seen something similar especially on the normally busy Trwyn; a favourite place for dog walkers.

Cemlyn Nature Reserve

Cemlyn Nature Reserve_Lin Cummins

A silence on the headland

The Trywyn (and the ridge) at Cemlyn are popular with dog walkers and over the years, with the opening of the Anglesey Coastal Path and an ever-increasing footfall of people combined with the growing popularity of dog ownership, we have seen a further decline in the number of ground nesting birds.

Many of these birds have suffered widespread declines as a result of changes in farming practices, so the additional effects of disturbance from dogs can be catastrophic for ground nesting bird populations.

On the Trywyn the loss of nesting skylark is a good example. The population of this bird is in serious decline but we have also lost the joy of hearing its beautiful song high above the headland. But there is also the loss of ringed plover, who favour the shingle areas of the beaches on the Trywn. This year a pair attempted to nest once again on one of the beaches, perhaps because early in the breeding season there was very little disturbance from dogs and people due to the lockdown. But it is not just ground nesting birds who can suffer when dogs run free – they are hunters and will search out possible prey in amongst low growing brambles – so dunncoks, wrens and other small birds can also fall victim, may be not directly but sufficiently disturbed to leave.

Being a responsible dog owner includes tidying up after your dog. This includes on open farmland where neospora, contracted from eating dog faeces, can have a serious impact on pregnant cows.

Signs of responsibility

Despite there being signs at each end of the shingle ridge at Cemlyn asking people to put dogs on a lead during the critical breeding season, many people do not comply. Sometimes people claim not to have seen the signs, other times and perhaps understandably – people may trust their dogs and claim that they would not run off and cause a problem. However, this can’t be guaranteed. It is also worth remembering that many dogs visit the countryside – their impact is cumulative.

The most serious incident in many years occurred on Friday July 10th.  An out of control dog swam across the lagoon and got onto the Main Island which at the moment is packed full of birds and vulnerable chicks which can’t yet fly. The dog was on the island chasing the birds for 20 minutes and at least one Arctic tern was badly injured and went on to die. A sad fate for a beautiful bird which has flown across the globe from wintering grounds at the South Pole to breed here at Cemlyn and very possibly had young chicks to feed.

With these scenarios happening in a multitude of places around our crowded country it is not surprising that so many of our beautiful birds have disappeared. Sadly, we get used to a baseline of seeing few birds and many of us are not aware of what we’ve already lost. I saw three lapwing at Cemlyn today and these birds once a common sight are now scarce.

If you’re a dog owner, please think about where you are and the time of year before you let your dog have its freedom. We have reported the recent incident to North Wales Police Wildlife Crimes Unit and yesterday PC Rhys Davies came out to Cemlyn to view the site and take action. 

Happy dog on the coast

Your dog your responsibility © NWWT

Leads and bags

So please be a responsible dog owner, think about wildlife wherever you are and let's work together to give wildlife a better future