Birdwatching photographers under fire

April 7, 2009

Photographers’ behaviour has been blamed for a fall in the survival rates of nesting dipper birds in the Derbyshire Peak District, prompting an appeal by conservationists.

‘Unfortunately, disturbances at one or two of the key dipper sites has had a direct and negative impact on their nesting success in recent years,’ said Phil Bowler, senior reserve manager at the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve.

If disturbed, dipper ‘chicks’ may leave their nest too early – increasing their vulnerability to predators, warns the conservation watchdog Natural England.

The risks to a bird’s survival also include the attraction of predators to the nest itself if it is disturbed as a result of it being inspected.

Natural England has issued written advice for photographers which states: ‘A number of isolated instances of photographer behaviour have called into question the ethics of some photographers.’

It continues: ‘We do not wish to stop photography, but to encourage photographers to behave in a responsible manner at nesting sites, reducing disturbance levels to dippers as much as possible.’

The watchdog’s advice leaflet warns photographers to not attempt any photography during the nesting season (March to July) until they know where the dipper’s nest is. ‘This may mean that you will need to retreat a few metres and watch the movements of the birds until you have located it [the nest].’

The leaflet was drawn up with the help of photographer Paul Hobson who said: ‘As a photographer, I know that it is entirely possible to get shots of these beautiful birds successfully, without disturbing them.’

Hobson, whose work has been featured in Amateur Photographer, added: ‘We are hoping photographers and other interested people understand the reasons behind this code of conduct and follow it.’

Bowler said he hopes the leaflet will raise awareness of the problem among photographers and casual visitors. He added: ‘Simple things such as limiting the time at the site can make a real difference.’

The advice concludes by telling photographers: ‘The welfare of the subject is more important than your photography.’

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