AS GROUND-nesting bird season gets under way, residents are warned that the increased number of visitors to Dorset's open spaces has put pressure on the creatures that live in them.

Ground-nesting bird season, which began on March 1 and runs until August, began last week and Dorset Council has issued a warning for residents and visitors to be careful while walking around the county and to stick to official paths during this time.

Dorset has seen an increase of visitors to its open spaces during the three national lockdowns and the council is encouraging all walkers to be vigilant.

A spokesman for the council said: "Dorset's heaths are home to some of our rarest and most threatened UK bird. Bird that nest on the ground usually avoid areas near to the busiest paths and byways.

"However, away from the paths, hidden from plain view, there will be nests, eggs and then chicks from spring through to August.

"It is so important that people keep themselves and their dogs to the official paths during this time. Dogs also need to be kept on leads where requested to do so."

One species of bird which is known to migrate to Dorset during this time of year is nightjars which are commonly seen in Dorset heathlands, having flown from Africa. The species is on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) amber conservation list which means populations are in decline.

Their grey-brown, mottled plumage means nightjars are extremely well camouflaged and, while this helps to keep them safe from most predators, it can make them vulnerable from disturbance or destruction from human beings.

A spokesman for Dorset Council said: "While parent birds are away from the nest searching for food their chicks hunker down, keeping as still and quiet as possible. The casual walker would not spot them and with the influx of people visiting our heathlands significantly increased during the pandemic, so has the pressure on these birds."

If you see any deliberate disturbance of wildlife in Dorset, report it on the anonymous Crimestoppers helpline 0800 555 111.

For more information, visit the Dorset council website.