Almost four in 10 people have witnessed or taken part in behaviour that might have been harmful to wildlife while out in Scotland’s forests, according to new research.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) shared the findings as it launched a new campaign, called Protect Scotland’s Wildlife, to coincide with the start of the main bird breeding and nesting season.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the unintended consequences and even harm that can be caused to wildlife and the environment by people participating in activities in Scotland’s forests and wild places, without taking sufficient care.

Its research found nearly six in 10 (59%) of those surveyed said they are not aware of the breeding and nesting seasons of birds and other wildlife in the areas they visit.

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FLS highlighted examples of harm caused by people’s careless behaviour, which has included several instances of ospreys – both chicks and adults – in the Trossachs becoming tangled in cut fishing lines, and the disturbance of water bird nests at Loch Sheil.

The Herald:

Tangled fish line cut away from a osprey chick's leg

Colin Edwards, national environment manager at FLS, said: “Enjoy yourself in Scotland’s forests and wild places but please be mindful of how your actions impact on birds, animals and sensitive habitats.

“Help us to protect what we’ve got, before it’s gone, and always follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – ‘leave no trace’, take responsibility and don’t linger if wildlife is disturbed by your presence.

“None of us set out to deliberately cause harm but sometimes it can be thoughtless behaviour that can cause problems that then ripple out.”

The campaign aims to raise awareness among people who take part in activities such as mountain biking, water sports, angling and wild camping about how they could have a negative impact on wildlife and the environment.

FLS said people may not realise that birds that nest at the edges of lochs can be easily disturbed by those enjoying water sports, while birds that nest in the treetops can be driven away by activity on the ground nearby.

The survey of 1,004 adults living in Scotland, carried out for FLS by Censuswide between April 3 and 5 this year, found 38% said they do not stick to designated paths and tracks, while 41% had not considered the impact of lighting fires.

Nearly half (46%) said they do not think about their noise levels and how it could disturb wildlife, and 49% do not think about the consequences of getting close to wildlife when taking photos.

Thirty-six per cent said they have witnessed or taken part in behaviour that, looking back on it, might have been harmful to wildlife.

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FLS said other instances of harm caused by human behaviour include disturbance caused to forest raptors such as buzzard, sparrow hawk, red kite and goshawk from an extensive network of unofficial bike tracks through Achray Forest in areas of mature, thinned conifers.

Elsewhere, capercaillies have been disturbed by birdwatchers and photographers, and an accidental grass fire under an osprey nest at Loch Awe caused by wild campers, who arrived by canoe/kayak, led to the nest being abandoned.

FLS manages 630,000 hectares of Scotland’s national forests and land, from very rural areas in the north and west to urban parts of the central belt.