Having been off-island for the past week, it has been disappointing on our return to view the negative publicity that has been generated in the local media regarding “concerns at walkers disturbing wildlife” (The Oban Times, 10th and 17th June).
Late May and early June are particularly stressful times for the shorebirds that breed around the Isle of Mull’s 305 miles of coastline. This tends to be a delicate time in the breeding cycles of most of the island’s ducks, geese, gulls and waders that choose to nest above the high water mark on Mull’s beaches. Many of the nests will have eggs that are very close to hatching and some birds will already be tending young on the ground.
Many of these coastal areas are also attractive to humans, who enjoy the relaxation of walking along sandy beaches, beachcombing and exercising their dogs. Inadvertently, in doing so, any birds that are nesting in the area are likely to be disturbed. Unfortunately, not everyone that enjoys spending time on Mull’s beaches is conscious of the wildlife that their actions may be distressing.
It is a difficult and perennial problem that can only be properly addressed by education. Some birds are more easily disturbed than others and most will return to their nests as soon as the cause of disturbance has gone. When eggs and young are exposed for long periods, particularly during inclement weather, is when nests and broods are in greatest danger of succumbing to the elements or predators.
At Mull Magic, many of our daily walks take us in to areas where shorebirds are nesting. Disturbance is, at times, inevitable, although we always try to keep any distress to these birds to a minimum, preferring to take a quick photograph before retreating to watch from a safe distance. The welfare of the bird must always come first and we would be extremely upset if we thought that our behaviour was causing any bird unnecessary harm.
Wildlife enthusiasts have to tolerate that people visit Mull’s coastline for all number of reasons and not only birdwatching. However, an acceptance of this fact needs to be reciprocated by the greater responsibility of others, particularly dog owners, when birds are nesting in Spring. Increased awareness of this problem may help to alleviate such concerns in the future. As a dog owner, Mull Magic believes that responsibility is the key to unlocking a situation that is neither new nor is likely to go away.