THE RSPB is urging people to “watch their step” as they return to the countryside during the easing of lockdown restrictions in order to protect rare ground nesting birds.

Garden birds and other wildlife have helped lift spirits throughout lockdown, with a recent YouGov survey, commissioned by the RSPB, showing that 41 per cent of participants reported seeing wildlife near their homes that they had never noticed before over the last 12 months.

Almost half of the UK population (44 per cent) have said they have tried to attract nature to their gardens during lockdown but as restrictions ease, the RSPB is keen to highlight that many of our threatened species don’t use gardens and nest boxes when raising young.

More than half of England’s most threatened breeding bird species nest on, or near to the ground; including curlew, little tern, nightjar and lapwing.

Sara Humphrey, of the RSPB, said: “If you ask people where birds 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 many of these 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.”

Across Yorkshire, coastal and wetland areas can be home to ground nesting birds. Terns, ringed plover and oystercatcher often make homes near the tide’s edge. As vulnerable chicks are easy prey for lots of predators, dogs running through nesting sites can be very stressful for breeding birds.

In County Durham, uplands and moors are vitals homes to ground nesting birds including curlew, dunlin and golden plover. The hen harrier, one of the UK’s most threatened birds of prey, also nests at ground level in some upland areas.

In the Tees Valley, farmlands can be home to threatened ground nesting species including skylark and lapwing.

Mike Shurmer, head of species for RSPB England, said: “A skylark egg can be as small as 17mm across, that’s around the width of a 5p piece. When those eggs hatch, the vulnerable chicks can be just as well camouflaged. If disturbed, a chick’s instinct is often to stay quiet and avoid detection, so if you hear an adult bird calling out in distress or see one trying to catch your attention, back away carefully to help protect nests from harm.”