18 September 2012
Operation Turtle Dove, a project trying to save the UK’s most threatened farmland bird, has been given a helping hand by members of the public who’ve been calling a special hotline to report sightings.
Since it was launched by Natural England, the RSPB, Conservation Grade and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust in May, the hotline has had 429 calls reporting the elusive bird.
Highlights include two unusual sightings on the Welsh coast (an area not usually associated with turtle doves); a B&B, frequented by visitors to the RSPB’s Snettisham nature reserve, where a pair of turtle doves nested in the conifers outside; and various calls from people who thought the ‘purring’ sound turtle doves make was coming from a group of frogs.
Norfolk came top as the county with the most reported turtle dove sightings (112), second was Suffolk (69), closely followed by Cambridgeshire (61), with Essex (32), Kent (29), and Lincolnshire (20) coming fourth, fifth and six.
Natural England has been targeting turtle doves, alongside other declining farmland birds, through Environmental Stewardship since it was launched in 2005. Research is underway into the feeding habitat requirements of the birds to identify a management solution which can be rolled out at a larger scale, through agri-environment schemes.
Phil Grice, Natural England’s Senior Environmental Specialist in Ornithology said: “The provision of suitable foraging habitats that are rich in seeds from when the birds arrive in the spring, is crucial for the species’ survival on English farmland. We hope that Operation Turtle Dove will encourage more farmers to take-up the key options that benefit the species in both HLS and ELS.”
Turtle dove numbers have fallen dramatically since the 1970s with just nine birds now for every 100 there were forty years ago. Once widespread across much of England and Wales, the species has been lost from many areas and are now primarily restricted to areas of East Anglia and southern England.
The reasons for the turtle dove’s population crash are not fully understood. However, since the 1960s the diet has changed from mainly the small seeds of wild plants to one dominated mainly by crop seeds, which are scarce early in the breeding season and may provide a poorer quality diet for turtle doves.
To report your turtle dove sightings, call the Operation Turtle Dove Hotline 01603 697527 or for more information on Operation Turtle Dove and to find out how you can help visit www.operationturtledove.org