Sowing the seeds of recovery for a national icon


You might hear plenty about them at Christmas time thanks to a well-known festive tune, but chances are you won’t have heard the gentle purring of a turtle dove in recent years. These dainty doves are the UK’s fastest declining bird species and are facing UK extinction. But the RSPB is working with partners and volunteers, at home and abroad, to hopefully sow the seeds of a comeback.


Why seeds are sow important...

When it comes to food, turtle doves know what they like. They like seeds from particular plants and in particular places. In the past, they would have munched on weed seeds in farmers’ fields – plants like clovers, medicks, fumitory and knotgrass - and topped up on any crop seeds that got spilt. But those weeds, and that spilt seed, have mostly disappeared and so, inevitably, have the turtle doves.

Better together

As part of Operation Turtle Dove, the RSPB and its partners have worked to understand why we’ve lost 95% of our turtle doves in the last 25 years and armed with that knowledge we are now trying to ensure we don’t lose them forever.

Working closely with farmers and landowners, field margins are being sowed with the special seed mixes that turtle doves need. Extra seed for the doves to feed on is also being scattered to make sure they have plenty to eat.

Volunteers are also playing their part. For example, residents in a Kent village have clubbed together to buy a small field that they manage specifically for their local turtle doves. With RSPB guidance, they’ve sowed areas of the right wildflowers, dug a shallow pond where the turtle doves can drink, and planted a hedge to give them a place to breed. Their hard work has been rewarded with many doves visiting, including youngsters.

Only part of the problem

Whilst dwindling food supplies is thought to be a big part of the problem, it’s not the only issue turtle doves face.

Turtle doves only spend half the year in the UK. They spend the winter in Africa and have to migrate thousands of miles, flying across many countries, to get between the two locations. As well as doing what it can at home to make sure turtle doves have enough to eat, the RSPB is also working with international partners to ensure laws and protection are in place to ensure turtle doves can travel safely and is undertaking research into how they can best be safeguarded on their wintering grounds.

We’re in this together

Turtle doves might not be a garden bird and, unless you’re really lucky, you’re unlikely to see one in your outdoor space, so why are we telling you about them?

Sadly, many of the species we know and love are struggling. Garden favourites like starlings, butterflies, and hedgehogs as well as species like the turtle dove are slowly disappearing. But if we all stand together and do our bit, we can give nature a fighting chance.

Think about how many gardens there are in the UK. If everyone did something, no matter how big or small, that’s a lot of space for wildlife. Then add on top of that all the work that conservation organisations like the RSPB do, and the efforts of farmers and landowners, local communities, volunteers, schools, etc and that’s a whole lot of wild being put back in our world.

We’re all in this together. Are you with us?