Farming for turtle doves in Berkshire
10 September 2012
Turtle doves are summer visitors to the UK and could once be seen on farmland across England and Wales, but they have been in sharp decline for several years. The most recent figures show that the population in the south east has fallen by 84 per cent since 1994.
Easily distinguished from species such as collared dove or wood pigeon by their diminutive size, striking chestnut and black mottled colouring on the wings and black and white ‘bar-code’ like patch on the neck, turtle doves are however, more often heard than seen. Their distinctive, gentle, purring song has long been a characteristic sound of summer.
The species no longer breeds in Wales and there are fears it could soon disappear as a breeding bird in England too, with only a few strongholds remaining in south east England and East Anglia.
Diane White, RSPB North Wessex farmland advisor said: “Turtle doves are really struggling. After many years of decline we are facing the very real possibility of losing this beautiful bird from the UK.
"Turtle doves were once widespread but have suffered a massive decline in the South East in the last few decades alone. While they used to breed up to four times a year, recent research shows that they now struggle to get into breeding condition and can only make one or two attempts each year.
"They are the only migratory bird which survives solely on seeds and we believe that one factor in their decline is the loss of certain arable weeds from our farmed countryside.”
The cause of the population crash is not fully understood and research is ongoing into factors affecting the species during their time spent outside the UK. When they arrive in the UK to breed each spring however, they depend on small seeds from wild plants to get into breeding condition and changes in farming practices mean these plants are now scarce in our countryside.
To help reverse the fortunes of the turtle dove, the RSPB is calling on landowners in Berkshire to consider establishing pollen and nectar mixes targeted to turtle doves as part of their Environmental Stewardship agreements, or as a voluntary option.
Diane added: “We now have a mix that is recommended for turtle doves, so any landowners who are either in Higher Level Stewardship, or who are looking at entering, can get in touch to see if this might be suitable for them, while any farmers doing this voluntarily could also find out what the mix is and if it's appropriate.
“This mix will benefit a range of wildlife as well as turtle doves, including pollinating insects such as bumblebees which could also do with a helping hand in spring and summer, especially after a summer of bad weather like we have just had.
“Many farmers in Berkshire are already doing fantastic work for wildlife and the environment through agri-environment schemes and this is another example of how important wildlife friendly farming is.”
Landowners in Berkshire who are signed up to Environmental Stewardship schemes, play a vital role in supporting key species and habitats, as well as making the countryside attractive and accessible for the public.
For further advice on helping the turtle dove and other farmland species on you farm, please call Diane White on 01488 680452 or email email@example.com