We're so lucky here in Margate to have such a beautiful coastline to explore with our canine companions. But did you know that dogs are a major cause of disturbance to birds along the East Kent coast? The wonderful Michael from Bird Wise East Kent sat down to chat with us about the importance of protecting our bird population, and what we can do to make sure our dogs don't cause a disturbance.
Can you tell us a little bit about Bird Wise?
Bird Wise is two projects, one in North Kent from Gravesend to Whitstable and East Kent, my bit, from Whitstable to Pegwell Bay. Both projects are known as "Strategic Access Management and Monitoring Schemes" which is a mouthful. But that essentially means that additional housing developments will cause an increase in people on the coast, which has the knock on effect of causing bird disturbance. Both projects aim to reduce bird disturbance through public engagement with coastal users.
Can you explain what Savvy Sea Dogs is?
Savvy Sea Dogs has been set up by Bird Wise East Kent as a group for dog owners across Canterbury and Thanet districts to use the coast, but do so responsibly, so as not to disturb the birds. When joining the Savvy Sea Dogs you not only receive a fantastic goody bag but also access to free training classes and, in future, use of designated off lead areas.
Pictured above: Pegwell Bay
What are the risks to birds if they are disturbed?
This is something that people don't consider, and I'll be honest, before I started Bird Wise East Kent I hadn't either. Imagine that you are about 5 inches tall and you've spent your summer in Canada on the arctic tundra, breeding and raising your young. Your home then begins to freeze over and access to food stops. You have to move, but that move is a four day journey, non-stop, flying three thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean. You see the Turner or Reculver Towers and you know there. You are exhausted, so you have to feed, you are devoid of energy. This means spending up to 95% of the daytime feeding to get ready for the return flight in the spring. As you're feeding the ache in your wings reminds you of your epic flight. You feel relieved you have made it and are enjoying the food. Suddenly, a dog runs near you. You feel scared and threatened, your best form of defence is to fly. Your wings scream out in pain as you take flight. You move to a safer location just having used up more energy than you wanted. You hope that you won't have to keep avoiding dogs as you know with the way you are feeling you won't be able to make it back across the ocean to raise more young.
If the birds are constantly disturbed they might not make the return flight, and if they do they will be in no condition to breed, this has a massive impact on their population numbers.
Pictured above: Curlew
What birds could well-behaved pups and their owners spot on the East Kent coast?
In the winter time we have the Daring Dozen. The twelve birds that have made the epic journey from across the arctic tundra. There are; the plovers (grey, ringed, and golden), europe's largest wader - the curlew, one of the world's smallest geese - the brent, purple sandpiper, lapwing, dunlin, sanderling, oystercatcher, redshank, and my favourite - the turnstone. Visit our website
to read more about them.
What areas of the coast should people be particularly mindful of when going for walkies?
There is no straight forward answer for this as the whole stretch from Whitstable to beyond Pegwell Bay is a Special Protected Area because of the roosting winter birds. An easier answer is the tideline, because that is where the birds tend to feed and you are most likely to come into contact with them there. This is even more important at high tide as there is less beach. So our advice is try and walk at low tide and stay away from the shoreline.
What is a common mistake people often make when walking their dogs that can lead to wildlife disturbance?
Not having the awareness of the wildlife's presence. So many people don't know about these birds and they don't know that putting them up in flight causes such issues. It's not the people's fault, they haven't been told about these amazing birds and the incredible journeys they take. Hopefully we can change that with this project.
Pictured above: our Marine Kikoy Hands Free Lead and Hound Collar
What advice would you offer to owners to ensure their dogs don't cause disturbance to birds?
Check tide times before you walk, avoid shorelines and walk at high tide. When you are out walking make sure your dog reacts to your commands and if they don't, walk them on a lead. I walk my dog on a lead as she is still in training, so she'll run after pretty much anything that moves. We have some doggy do's which summarise this:
- Do keep dogs under close control
- Do keep your dog on a lead if they like chasing birds
- Do use designated off lead areas at high tide
- Do make sure your dog returns when commanded
- Do keep 100 metres between your dog and the birds
- Do follow signs and keep to paths
- Do clean up after your dog and use a bin
Do book onto a guided dog walk and a Savvy Sea Dogs training day at eastkent.birdwise.org.uk/savvy-sea-dogs/
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
We are really getting into the swing of things now after the last year and a half. My favourite part of my job is going out and speaking with people, so keep an eye out for us at events across the districts and on the coast.
You can learn more about Savvy Sea Dogs by visiting their website here