DOG walkers have been accused of vandalising signs at Oxey Marshes warning them not to disturb ground nesting birds – some of which are among the rarest in the UK.
Four of the five signs recently installed at the Keyhaven and Lymington nature reserve have been ripped down and trashed.
Peter Durnell, site manager of the nature reserve, said he believed angry dog owners were behind the vandalism, saying: “They did not target any other signs – just the ones about dogs.
“All the signs asked for was for dog owners to keep their animals on a lead to protect the ground nesting birds – if they are disturbed then the eggs won’t develop.”
Countryside ranger Julian Shepherd said the signs were put up annually.
“I put them up and within four to five days all but one had been trashed,” he said. “It’s deliberate vandalism because the posts they are on have also been smashed.
“This is happening all over the national park, not just here. We have a lot of birds nesting here at the moment, including the lapwing, red shank, curlew and skylark.”
Mr Shepherd said the birds nest from March to July, but this year because of the warm weather they started nesting earlier in February.
This year there were three sets of very rare avocets, a species the RSPB uses as an emblem to symbolise the bird protection movement in the UK.
Other rare birds sighted there this month include the glossy ibis, the ring-billed gull and the white stork.
Mr Shepherd said: “Avocets are hardly ever sighted, so we are very privileged to have them here. They are protected by law and it is a criminal act to disturb them.
He continued: “I am a dog owner and we welcome dogs here. All we are asking is that dog owners put their pet on a lead where the birds are nesting, or avoid those areas.
“But it seems some dog owners are just selfish and believe they should be able to let their dog roam wherever it wants to. It seems a sad state of society that we even have to have signs up asking people to be careful around these birds.
“Yes, it is a public open space, but we need to treat it with respect.”
Heather Gould from New Forest Dog Owners Group backed the wardens saying: “Every responsible dog owner should have their dog under close control so that they do not disturb the birds.
“They should not let them roam free and if they really are unable to control them, they should put them on a lead in an area like this.
“Anyone who vandalises signs is guilty of really bad behaviour. I do not believe that any of our members would behave like this.”