Conservationists, farmers and wildlife enthusiasts in the south east are rallying to the cause of one of England’s most threatened birds, the turtle dove, which has seen its worst year yet.
The latest State of the UK’s Birds report, published in December, reveals many of our most familiar countryside birds are undergoing sweeping changes with some experiencing ‘plummeting population declines’, compared with the 1990s.
Part of the report looks at the UK’s 107 most widespread and common breeding birds. Of these species, about a fifth have declined in the south east by more than a third since 1995, including turtle dove, willow tit, starling, cuckoo, lapwing, sparrow and wood warbler.
The turtle dove, once common on farmland, is once of the hardest hit species with the RSPB saying the local population is ‘on the brink’.
Operation Turtle Dove, a partnership project between the RSPB, Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England, was launched in May last year and since then advisors have been busy visiting farms in the South and East of England to help them put in place measures to help turtle doves bounce back.
Improving habitats is a priority with farmland and RSPB reserves in the south east working to become turtle dove friendly.
The farm advisory team in the south east has provided advice to 16 farmers so far, covering an area of 3800 hectares, encouraging them to increase the amount of turtle dove foraging habitat on their farms.
Moved by the plight of the species 1,250 people rang in to the Operation Turtle Dove hotline in 2013 to report sightings, helping conservationists build up a vital picture of where the birds are nesting and foraging.
“If we increase their foraging habitat, over time the turtle doves will have more chance of survival and they are more likely to breed and increase their numbers,” said RSPB Agricultural Projects Officer Hayley New.
“We found that 277 people called our hotline to report having seen turtle doves in the south east over the last year.
Simon Tonkin, farmland advisor for Operation Turtle Dove, said: “e believe it is the loss of arable plants from our countryside which is having a major impact on them.
“These birds spend the summer in England where they rely on wild plants for food - but the way we farm today has meant there is often no room for these plants.”
To find out more about the campaign visit – www.operationturtledove.org.