DOG owners are being told to put their pets on leads when walking on Poole's urban heathland during the next four months – to protect the wildlife that lives there.

The lead regulations, backed by Natural England and BCP Council, run from March 1 until July 31.

They are timed to coincide with bird nesting season on the heaths.

Speaking on the Poole's Heathland Facebook page, provided by BCP Council to help protect heathland across Poole, a spokesman said: "With March knocking at the door, it is a wonderful time of year to get outside and explore, and so from now we will see an increase of people out on the heath.

"March also sees a massive increase in bird activity and, already, nest-building has begun.

"With most heathland birds nesting at ground level, some well-hidden and surprisingly near to pathways, we must take care to enjoy the heathland without harming the rare animals for which the site is protected.

"As such, we ask that when you visit the heathland, from March until the end of July, that you keep your dogs on a lead."

The majority of heaths within Dorset carry the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designation.

Birds such as the stonechat and Dartford warbler nest on the heaths.

Dorset Heaths are also home to all six native reptiles – the smooth snake, grass snake, adder, sand lizard, common lizard and slow worm.

A spokesman for the Urban Healths Partnership said: "Some species of heathland birds, such as the woodlark, will begin nesting on or near the ground from the end of February."