Watch Your Step in the countryside to help the RSPB protect ground nesting birds this spring

Sara Humphrey

Thursday 17 March 2022

Watch Your Step in the countryside to help the RSPB protect ground nesting birds this spring   

  • Over half of England’s most threatened breeding species nest on or near the ground
  • The pandemic has made the public more aware of nature in their local area. 41% of people asked said they’ve spotted wildlife they had never noticed before near their homes between 2020 and 2021 
  • As breeding season gets underway, the RSPB says watching your step can help protect rare breeding wildlife  
    People have been noticing nature much more during lockdowns, as garden birds and other wildlife have helped lift spirits and connect us to the world outside. A recent survey commissioned by the RSPB showed that 41% of participants reported seeing wildlife near their homes that they had never noticed before between 2020 and 2021.  
    Almost half of the UK population have said they have tried to attract nature to their gardens but the RSPB is keen to highlight that many of our threatened species don’t use gardens and nest boxes when raising young.   
    Over half of England’s most threatened breeding species nest on or near to the ground, including curlew, little tern, nightjar and lapwing.   
    “If you ask a child where bird’s nest, they are likely say a tree, hedge or nest box. It’s an image we’ve all grown up with but for some of our most threatened species it’s simply not true. Almost every natural habitat in the English countryside can be home to ground nesting birds and these threatened species are under increasing pressure due habitat loss, predators and climate change. Yet we can all help protect them from disturbance by simply following the Countryside Code and keeping to footpaths.” Sara Humphrey, Communications Manager   
    As birds nesting on the ground are at higher risk from predators; the nests and eggs they contain are often extremely well camouflaged, making them very hard to see and avoid.   
    “A skylark egg can be as small as 17mm, that’s around the width of a 5p piece. And when those eggs hatch, chicks can be just as well camouflaged and vulnerable. When scared, a chick’s instinct is often to stay quiet and avoid detection, so if you see an adult bird calling out in distress or trying to catch your attention, back away carefully to help protect nests from harm.” Mike Shurmer, Head of Species for RSPB England.   
    Many coastal areas can be home to ground nesting birds; little tern, ringed plover and oystercatchers often make homes near the tide's edge. As these vulnerable birds are easy prey for lots of predators, dogs running through nesting sites can be very stressful for breeding birds and alarm calls by parent birds will often attract the attention of predators.  
    Wetlands are vital for wading species including lapwing and redshank, which make their nests in grassy pastures, before leading chicks to wetter areas to feed. Young chicks are more at risk to disturbance, getting cold and the impacts from predators when separated from parent birds.   
    Rare birds like woodlark and nightjar nest on heathland sites, which are often popular places to walk, cycle, horse ride and picnic too. By keeping yourself and your animals to the footpaths you can help to keep chicks safe. Fire risk can also be very high on heathlands, so pack a picnic rather than a BBQ and take any litter home.   
    Uplands and moors are vitals homes to ground nesting birds including curlew, lapwing, golden plover and snipe. The hen harrier, one of the UK's most threatened birds of prey, also nests at ground level in some upland areas.   
    By sticking to paths, watching your step and keeping dogs on a short lead, you can give rare ground nesting birds the best chance of survival.  
    The RSPB’s conservation scientists have developed methods to help protect nesting birds from environmental threats including climate change, wildfire and sea level rise, which can be delivered through managing landscapes for wildlife. They have seen fantastic results for species including roseate tern and stone curlew, but to protect ground nesting birds across the countryside, everyone can play a part by watching where they step. To find out more, search #WatchYourStep on Twitter or Facebook.   
    The RSPB works closely with partners and communities to protect wildlife across their network of over 300+ UK nature reserves and in the wider countryside. To find out more about RSPB reserves near you or to help fund the vital work the charity does to protect wildlife, visit    




Editors' notes:  
Interviews  - we have a number of conservation projects running across the country which are aimed at protecting habitat for these ground nesting birds. If you would like to interview someone regarding this press release, please do let us know and we will be happy to try to arrange an interview with a project team relevant to your county.  Please email to request an interview.     
Images: We have supplied county text based on the most at-risk habitats in your local area. A selection of images is available for use alongside this release are available for download here. We would recommend using the named species image that correspond with the birds named in this regionalised content, as not all species will be relevant to your local area. Please email for details    
The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.  
*Over half of the birds breeding in England and listed on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern 5 Red List, nest on or near the ground. There are now 70 species on the UK Red-List of conservation concern   
YouGov Survey Results  Total sample size was 2071 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th - 14th January 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+)    

Ref 1: I have seen wildlife in my local area that I hadn't noticed before  
Net agree: UK 41% England 41% Wales 35% Scotland 42% NI 38%   
Ref 2: I have done something to help and attract wildlife in my local area (e.g. putting out food and water, making changes to my garden, etc.)   
Net agree: UK 44% England 44% Wales 44% Scotland 42% NI 49%     
The full Countryside Code is available online here -  

Last Updated: Thursday 17 March 2022

Tagged with: Country: England Country: UK Topic: Birds Topic: Campaigns Topic: Conservation Topic: Get involved Topic: Giving nature a home where you live Topic: Summer Topic: Spring Topic: Farmland Topic: Grassland Topic: Heathland Topic: Marine and intertidal Topic: Upland Topic: Wetland Topic: Woodland Topic: Birds and wildlife Topic: Campaigns Topic: Climate change Topic: Conservation Topic: Green issues Topic: Habitat conservation Topic: People Topic: Reserves Topic: Science Topic: Site conservation Topic: Species conservation Topic: Species protection