Rare turtle doves, one of the stars of Britain's favourite Christmas carols, have been given a boost thanks to the generosity of RSPB members who have clubbed together to buy a patch of land for them.
David and Ann Tingey and David and Bridget Burridge joined forces to protect a patch of private land to support breeding turtle doves, one of the UK's most threatened bird species. They bought the plot in Staple, Kent, using their own money and donations from friends.
The open ground has been a summer home to migratory turtle doves for over seven years, but the habitat was at risk as part of the Summerfield Nursery sale. So the two couples, passionate conservationists, approached the landowners and with the RSPB's support, agreed the purchase the land.
Up to four male turtle doves were heard making their distinctive purring call at the site this summer. The RSPB will be giving ongoing practical help and expertise in managing the land for the birds as part of Operation Turtle Dove, a project which aims to halt and reverse the decline of these beautiful birds.
Tara Proud, Operation Turtle Dove project manager, said "We're absolutely thrilled by the generosity and enthusiasm that has been shown by the Burridges and the Tingeys. Turtle doves need all the help they can get and patches of land like this, managed with the birds in mind, play a vital role in their conservation."
Turtle doves are often associated with Christmas thanks to the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' carol, although they actually spend the festive season in West Africa. This iconic bird has suffered a 93% UK population decline since 1995. There are thought to be a number of reasons for this, including the availability of their favourite food, wildflower seeds, while they're here during the summer.
The plot at Summerfield Nursery was traditionally used to grow wallflowers, and when the flowers were removed for sale, the naturally growing weeds of arable farmland provided a perfect feeding habitat for the birds to build up their strength for the breeding season.
David Burridge commented, "We have been lucky enough to enjoy turtle doves grazing at this patch for years, and when the sale was advertised, we were concerned this special habitat might be lost. Fortunately we have been able to protect it, and working with the RSPB, we hope to increase the numbers of turtle doves using this land in future years."
"We hope to have a hide and a pond constructed before the birds return in next spring," added David Tingey.
The RSPB is already working with the new owners, cutting back overgrown vegetation and sowing specialist seed mixes to ensure that the turtle doves have a home to return to in the spring.
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