DOG owners are being urged to keep their pets on leads by Malvern Hills Conservators to protect the rare skylark.

The famous songbird is vulnerable during the nesting season from March to July, as it lays it eggs in small hollows in long grass, and can be easily disturbed or trampled by walkers and dogs.

The bird's numbers have declined across the country because of habitat loss, making Malvern's hills and commons an important nesting location

Beck Baker, the deputy conservation officer, said: "The sound of the skylark’s beautiful song once filled the spring air above the hills and commons, but now there are only a handful of birds nesting here. The Conservators will be working to raise awareness in the hope of encouraging more birds to breed here.

"This spring, the Conservators urge dog walkers to keep their pets under control at all times, keep to paths and if you see a disturbed or stressed bird, move away quickly to allow it to return to its nest.

"Even if your dog means no harm, the adult birds will see the dog as a threat and could abandon its nest. If the adults are away for too long, the eggs or chicks may get too cold and die."

The Conservators will be erecting signs to alert walkers, and are also reminding them not to let their dogs chase sheep, especially during the lambing season.

New signs on gates of the grazing areas highlight the importance of keeping your dog under control, and Conservators also advise owners to train their pets to ignore livestock anmd insure them against the costs of vet bills if they attack sheep.

The weekly Stockwatch in the Malvern Gazette's listings pages gives upi-to-date information about where stock is grazing.