Farmers and landowners in eastern region vital for survival of turtle doves

Turtle doves are now one of the most threatened birds in England. As the population declines, their distribution is shrinking towards the east – which has several hotspots, particularly in Suffolk and Essex.

Overall, East Anglia now supports approximately 60% of the current breeding population (based on figures derived from data from BTO/BirdWatchIreland/SOC Bird Atlas 2007–11). This means the region is vital in efforts to try and prevent the extinction of turtle doves as a breeding species in the UK.

Although turtle doves face a range of threats across their migratory route, research has shown that the main driver of their decline is a reduction in nesting attempts over the breeding season. This is being linked to a lack of food availability and a change in diet.

Launched in 2012, Operation Turtle Dove, a partnership project between the RSPB, Natural England, Conservation Grade and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, aims to address and reverse turtle dove declines. A key component of the project is to engage with farmers and landowners within core turtle dove distributions to provide free support and advice on how land managers can provide suitable habitat for turtle doves.

Currently, we do not have sufficient amounts of suitable foraging habitat for turtle doves. Yet, through amendments to existing agri-environment schemes and through the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme, habitat provision can be made to make sure we keep these birds purring through summer in our countryside. Many in the east have already stepped up efforts, with almost 40ha of targeted turtle dove habitat created by farmers, landowners, schools and campsites over the past year. However,there is still a long way to go.

So, whether it’s enhancing your EFAs, tweaking your current HLS, in an application for Countryside Stewardship, or perhaps just voluntarily, get in touch with your local turtle dove adviser to make sure you’re doing your bit to save this wonderful bird. Together we can save a species.

For more information visit www.operationturtledove.org or contact your local Turtle Dove Conservation Adviser Sam Lee via email samantha.lee@rspb.org.uk or call 07894 802267. You can also follow us on Twitter: @saveturtledoves