Amateur wildlife watchers help with search for one of the UK’s most threatened birds
12 September 2012
Conservationists trying to save the UK's most threatened farmland bird have been given a helping hand by members of the public who've been calling a special hotline to report sightings.
Since Operation Turtle Dove was launched by the RSPB, Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England 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 sixth.
Alison Gardner from Operation Turtle Dove, said: 'It's great that we've already had so many people supporting Operation Turtle Dove and looking out for these birds.
'At this time of year, just before turtle doves head off on migration, juveniles and family groups are easier to spot so we're hoping for some more reports before the season's out and are appealing to anyone who spots a turtle dove to call and give us as much information as possible.'
Turtle dove numbers have fallen dramatically since the 1970s with just nine birds now for every 100 there were 40 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.
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.
Simon Tonkin, the RSPB's senior farmland advisor, said: 'Turtle doves feed almost exclusively on seeds. Many of the traditional wild foods are now scarce on farmland and it is uncertain whether crop seeds are providing an adequate substitute. Additionally, turtle doves prefer to nest in hedgerows or areas of scrub over 4 m tall, habitats that are less common than in the past.'
Operation Turtle Dove's hotline has also received a number of calls from people with large gardens, often backing onto agricultural land, who've spotted turtle doves taking food from their bird feeders and using the garden pond to drink from and bathe in.
RSPB researchers have also found nests in gardens and amenity areas bordering farmland, which may reflect a shortage of resources on agricultural land, meaning the birds are forced to find alternatives to survive.
Simon added: 'This means farmers and householders in rural areas have a huge role to play in the conservation of this beautiful bird. While there are some great advocates out there doing all they can, it still needs more support.'
To report your turtle dove sightings, call the Operation Turtle Dove Hotline 01603 697527 or you can submit your sightings, together with any photos and stories you'd like to share, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Two advice sheets on how to help turtle doves, one for farmers and one for people with large gardens or outside spaces that back onto arable fields, are available free from the RSPB by emailing email@example.com / calling 01603 697589.
1. The RSPB speaks out for wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. Wildlife and the environment face many threats. Our work is focussed on the species and habitats that are in the greatest danger. Our work is driven by the passionate belief that birds and wildlife enrich people's lives. We have more than one million members, over 13,500 volunteers, 1,300 staff, more than 200 nature reserves, 10 regional offices, four country offices... and one vision - to work for a better environment rich in birds and wildlife. www.rspb.org.uk
2. Conservation Grade is an independent accreditation organisation that facilitates commercial relationships between farmers and consumers on an area rapidly approaching 100,000 acres in the UK througha system of agriculture that optimises both crop yields and biodiversity conservation. Conservation Grade has developed a truly unique system of sustainable farming, founded on science and commercial viability. It is internationally recognised by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, as well as Natural England and leading NGOs such as the RSPB, for its significant contribution to the conservation of biodiversity through the commercial marketplace. www.conservationgrade.org
3. The Pensthorpe Conservation Trust’s unique expertise in captive rearing turtle doves and other threatened species for recovery projects will facilitate the investigation of matters vital to the long-term success of Operation Turtle Dove. An initial project element will involve offering captive-reared birds a choice of different types of seed to determine preferred foods throughout their breeding and rearing cycle; translating this crucial information into prescribed seed mixes to be sown by farmers. www.pensthorpetrust.org.uk
4. Natural England is the government’s advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and advising on their conservation.We run England’s Environmental Stewardship green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from themFollow us on Twitter @NaturalEngland