SOME of the region's rarest upland birds could be at risk unless walkers, cyclists and ramblers ensure their dogs are under control in the current nesting season, it was warned yesterday.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, along with the Moorland Association, sent out a message that rare species nesting in heather were easily disturbed.

Ian Court, species officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: "With so many of Britain's birds in decline and open access on moorland becoming a reality by 2005, it is increasingly important for visitors to understand the wildlife that relies on this rare habitat.

"We are working very closely with land owners, farmers and managers to help minimise the impact that increased access will have whilst enhancing people's knowledge and enjoyment of these beautiful working landscapes."

Simon Bostock, chairman of the Moorland Association, said: "Moorland ground nesting birds, such as curlew, lapwing, merlin, golden plover, redshank, snipe and dunlin, are very vulnerable to disturbance from humans and dogs, as well as predators such as crows, foxes, stoats and weasels.

"The work of gamekeepers helps to even the odds, and hence heather moorland managed for grouse is crucial for the success of many rare birds, but visitors too can help. I urge them all to minimise disturbance by sticking to rights of way, paths and roads and by keeping their dogs on short leads.''

There are several species of wading bird that spend the winter in coastal and low-lying farmland and then return to Britain's moorland to rest in the spring.

As lowland arable farms have changed through intensified agricultural practice, they have lost their appeal as breeding sites, leaving well- managed heather moorland as an increasingly important breeding ground.

David Hirst, regional information officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said wading birds were particularly at risk because they were difficult to see when nesting.