CONSERVATION

Operation Turtle Dove

The UK’s fastest declining bird, the turtle dove, needs farmers. This beautiful, diminutive farmland dove celebrated by Shakespeare – and sung about across the nation every Christmas – is in serious trouble.

Since 1970, we have lost 97% of our UK turtle doves. The reasons for this are complex, especially as this is a migratory species, which overwinters in Africa. Turtle doves eat only seeds, in fact, unusually, even their chicks are fed on seeds, and scientists believe that a shortage of this important food source here in the UK is one of the main factors for the dove’s disappearance. Disease may also be playing a part and more research is ongoing to work out how much of a problem this is for the birds. On the migration route, many are shot, legally and illegally, which we believe could be at unsustainable levels. Finally, when the turtle doves reach their wintering grounds in countries like Mali and Senegal, they may find that many of the trees they need to spend the night in have been chopped down as the pressure on the landscape to provide for people increases.

The Turtle Dove NEEDS #Farmers | @Natures_voice #Operationturtledove Click To Tweet

Operation Turtle Dove is a partnership of organisations aiming to reverse the fortunes of this much-loved bird. The RSPB, Conservation Grade, Natural England and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust work with farmers, scientists and other conservationists across the UK and the birds’ migration flight path to try to tackle these challenges.

So, how can farmers join in to help? First, by making sure there’s plenty of food. There are Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) options to support this, as well as simple ways to create suitable turtle habitat using voluntary measures. Then, the birds need somewhere like a scrubby hedge to nest, as well as a nearby water source:

There’s plenty of advice on what to do on the Operation Turtle Dove website. In the next issue, find out more about these amazing birds and how we can help save them.

Farmland Magazine
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