A WILDLIFE trust is urging people to follow safety advice after several visitors chose to ignore guidance signs at nature reserves.

Visitors are increasingly using nature reserves near their homes as part of their daily exercise during lockdown measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19.

But Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) has now received reports of visitors not abiding by the guidance displayed on signage whilst using its nature reserves across Dorset.

Reports include owners letting their dogs off leads, and visitors getting too close to livestock at Upton Heath nature reserve - causing concern for staff as the bird nesting season has just started.

Threatened and rare bird species such as the Dartford warbler and nightjar are known to nest on the ground of heathland nature reserves and are particularly susceptible to disturbance.

Dorset Wildlife Trust Chief Executive, Brian Bleese said, “We understand that people are using wild spaces more than ever to look after their physical and mental health at this uncertain time.

"But we are pleading with local people to comply with the guidance which is displayed clearly at the entrances to our nature reserves, so they know to keep their dogs on leads and be aware that livestock is present on the site.

"Not keeping dogs on leads, leaving paths, and disturbing sensitive habitat during the spring and summer could have a significant effect on populations of rare and threatened birds in the coming years.

"Please take extra care not to disturb livestock, wildlife and especially at this time of the year, nesting birds.”

In 2019, DWT upgraded signage on selected nature reserves in Dorset, pleading with the public to keep dogs on leads to avoid harming wildlife and other animals that live there, such as cattle.

Brian added: “We are asking people to use the rights of way on nature reserves responsibly at this time and consider the wildlife that lives there.

"Outside space will have huge benefits to people right now, and we are pleased to be able to provide some fantastic natural areas for people to get exercise, but we can’t forget the reason these sites exist to begin with – for the benefit of wildlife.”

DWT is also concerned about a potential increase in anti-social behaviour on nature reserves and has already seen an increase in issues which require a response from wardens.

The trust is now asking that people visiting nature reserves close to their homes adhere to social distancing and return to the site another time if people are congregating there.