THE beautiful song of the skylark is becoming a rare sound in the countryside these days as the species is in decline nationally, but there are ways that you can help protect them. South Somerset’s rangers at Ham Hill Country Park are encouraging locals, visitors and dog walkers to remember nesting birds and take extra care.
Skylarks are ground-nesting birds and a grassy meadow full of insects, grass tussocks and wildflowers is a perfect home for the species. That makes Ham Hill Country Park ideal for them to raise a family and the rangers are working hard to protect and provide the perfect habitat for them.
Nesting on the ground in meadows makes them vulnerable to disturbance from dogs running off the lead. As skylarks are camouflaged and their nests are well hidden in the long grass, people don’t often realise they are there.
Assistant ranger Izzi says: “Sadly, this year we are seeing high numbers of people walking their dogs off leads in our meadows where skylarks nest at Ham Hill. With dogs dashing across meadows, our skylarks’ nests are under threat of being trampled and with this disturbance the parent birds are more likely to abandon the nest .altogether.”
Dogs running loose in the areas where the birds nest can lead to their nests being accidently run through, breaking the skylark’s eggs or squashing young chicks. Parent birds can feel threatened by dogs as they see them as a predator in close proximity leading to abandonment, or nest failure.
At Ham Hill, the plateau fields tend to be the best place to see and hear these birds during the summer months from April to July. It is only during these summer months that the rangers ask members of the public walking dogs in these meadows to please put their dog on a lead. The meadows with skylarks nesting have clear signs on the entry points into the meadows. The woodland areas and northern spur remain open for dogs to be allowed off the lead but kept under close control.
Rachael Whaites, South Somerset’s countryside manager, says: “We were really lucky to secure a second grant from the Cultural Recovery Fund for Heritage, which has meant that we have been able to extend the contracts of our rangers, Izzi and Edd. This has really helped the team to protect the wildlife at Ham Hill. “