Dog walkers a threat to birds' vital beach habitat; Some animals cause mayhem, say experts.
DOG walkers on the beaches of West Wirral could be threatening the habitat of birds, environmentalists have warned.
Every autumn and winter, many thousands of wading birds pass through the internationally-important Hoylake beach.
However, local people say birds are increasingly being disturbed by walkers and some dogs can cause mayhem by continually chasing the wildlife, preventing them from resting and causing them to use up valuable energy reserves.
Karen Leeming, chairwoman of the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Dee Estuary Conservation Group, said: "It is because of the thousands of birds visiting in the winter that Hoylake beach has been designated part of the North Wirral Foreshore Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
"Farther round the coast, on West Kirby beach, volunteer wardens have been very successful in encouraging people not to disturb the birds on the tide-line, but unfortunately that success is contrasted by increased disturbance of flocks of wading birds in recent years, on Hoylake beach."
At times of high water, birds that have been widely dispersed over the sandbanks become concentrated in flocks at the top of the shore, within yards of the promenade.
Some flocks can exceed 30,000 birds.
The most numerous species are usually knot and dunlin, but there are also large numbers of oystercatcher, grey plover, bar-tailed godwit, curlew, ringed plover, redshank and sanderling.
A Liverpool John Moores University academic research paper compared data on disturbances on the beach at Hoylake with those on the area of West Kirby beach covered by wardening arrangements.
The research report highlighted that, although fewer potential disturbances were recorded at Hoylake, a higher proportion of these had developed into actual disturbances of wild birds on the beach - 69%, compared with 10% at West Kirby.
In an effort to reduce the disturbance, new signs are being put up near King's Gap and new volunteer wardens are on Hoylake promenade talking to people and explaining how birds suffer from disturbance at times of high water, when they have nowhere else to go.
The work of the Dee Estuary voluntary wardens is coordinated by Wirral Council's Ranger Service.
Cllr Bob Moon, Wirral Council cabinet member for culture, tourism and leisure, said: "Volunteers such as the Dee Estuary voluntary wardens provide invaluable support and often specialist knowledge to the council's own rangers, and we are very lucky and grateful to have them."
Cllr Moon added: "I know they are always on the look-out for new recruits to their service and would encourage anyone with an interest in the wildlife and conservation to get in touch if they feel to could help."
FOR further information, or details on how to become a warden, contact: Wirral Coastal Rangers, Leasowe lighthouse (0151) 678 5488 or visit www.deeestuary.co.uk
Warning signs are being put up
This dog on Hoylake beach is behaving itself - but others can be a nuisance