Did you know over half of England’s most threatened breeding bird species nest on or near the ground? 

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. Over half of England’s most threatened breeding species nest on or near to the ground, including curlew, little tern, nightjar and lapwing. 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.Little tern chicks - Ben Andrew

More people than ever are enjoying the benefits that spending time in the countryside offers for our health and wellbeing too. Yet for ground nesting birds this can cause additional pressure during breeding season, when the places they nest in become busy with visitors who often don't realise birds may nest on the ground. 

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. The good news is that it's very simple to help give these birds the space they need during breeding season. By sticking to paths, watching your step and keeping dogs on a short lead while you enjoy the countryside, you can help give rare ground nesting birds the best chance of survival.     
“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. You can find out more about beach nesting birds here.
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. You can find out more about wetland ground nesting birds hereLapwing chick - Ray Kennedy
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. You can find out more about heathland ground nesting birds here
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. You can find out more about our rare upland and moorland ground nesting birds here.
Our 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. We've  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.   
We work closely with partners and communities to protect wildlife across our 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 we do to protect wildlife, visit www.rspb.org.uk