Wiltshire dog walkers are being warned to keep their pets on leads to protect ground-nesting birds like skylarks and swans.

The call comes after a Bowerhill resident’s attempt to protect the skylarks was vandalised and a cygnet was killed by a dog in Marlborough.

As birds are now into the nesting season which lasts until the end of July, authorities are warning that dogs must be kept on a lead when in the area of nesting birds, like the county’s downs.

Sue Tweedy, of Bowerhill, recently tried to help the rapidly-declining skylark population by putting up signs to alert dog owners walking on the downs near Bromham.

Wiltshire Times: Sue Tweedie is calling for dog-owners to be aware of ground-nesting birds.Sue Tweedie is calling for dog-owners to be aware of ground-nesting birds.

“I put up eight posters to inform people – but they were all ripped down,” said Sue.

She added: “I’m devastated by this vandalism, it makes me so sad that somebody has done this at such a crucial time for the birds.

“Some dog owners do not realise that a dog let off the lead can disturb ground-nesting birds. The dog may not do so intentionally, but that’s not the point; we have to protect these birds.

“The skylarks are rising and singing now and this is a sign that they are readying for nesting. 

"They are in decline by 75 per cent and if they are to recover their nesting grounds, these iconic birds nest on the ground in tussocky grasses, then we must preserve their nesting sites.”

Sue’s call has been backed by Wiltshire Council, who said: “If your dog is running loose it could accidentally damage a nest, trample fledglings or scare off their parents leaving young birds to starve. If you come across a nest please don’t let your dog disturb it.”

Marlborough Town Council has endorsed the dog control call after an incident at a riverside park in the centre of the town.

The council said: “Recently a cygnet was attacked by a dog in the river at Coopers Meadow. It did not survive. Any dog might behave this way even if you don't believe that yours would.

“Swan families stay together until around February-March the following year, when the parents get ready to nest again and the cygnets begin to fend for themselves. 

“The nesting season began on March 1 and runs to 31 July 31. During this time we are asking dog owners to help us protect wildlife and to keep their dogs on leads in Coopers Meadow.

"Please also bear this in mind if you are walking dogs in the countryside or forest remember that there are plenty of ground-nesting birds which can be equally vulnerable to uncontrolled dogs.”

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb any wild bird while it is nest building, or at a nest containing eggs or young, or disturb the dependent young of such a bird. Penalties can include an unlimited fine, six months in prison or both.