A Cumbrian farmer has pleaded with walkers to keep dogs on a lead – for the sake of wild birds.

Ground-nesting birds are at risk when dogs are allowed to roam free, and a Longsleddale man says the problem has got worse since the introduction of right-to-roam laws.

Rodney Dixon, who farms at Well Foot, Longsleddale, said: “When I was a kid there were regularly 20 or more pairs of curlews on our heather fell. Now you’d be lucky to see four.

“Lapwings, you just don’t get any more.”

He says people are aware of the danger to lambs of dogs on the fells, but less so the problem they cause to wild birds. Mr Dixon said: “Since the Countryside and Rights of Way Act came into force, people seem to think that all land is open to them. A woman with an out of control dog told me last year she had the right to go where she wanted.

“Because these nesting birds are not obvious when there’s no stock around people think it’s fine to let their dogs run free.

“Dogs should be kept on leads between now and mid-July, otherwise in 10 years there’ll be no ground nesting birds left. Once a nest has been disturbed, it’s abandoned: end of story!”

His family has farmed in the area for 30 years. Species at risk include curlew, lapwings and grouse.
The problem increases with the influx of visitors into the Lake District National Park during holiday periods.

 The Lake District National Park Authority’s ranger manager Sara Spicer asked dog owners to be responsible during ‘this very sensitive and important time’.

Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) law says dogs on open access land should be kept on fixed two-metre leads between 1 March and 31 July.

Ms Spicer said: “We ask that proper control is used and dogs are kept on leads when on access land and near livestock.

“Lambing is now well underway and will go right through to the end of June on the high fells.”

Dogs can legally be shot by landowners if found chasing their livestock.