Introducing the stars of Let Nature Sing!

Adrian Thomas introduces our fourth star soloist on our Let Nature Sing single, part of the rhythm section in our a capella supergroup.

Who's calling?

Now here’s a blast from the past! It kicks in half way through our Let Nature Sing single with rhythmic paired, purring notes: ‘Tur tur…tur tur, tur tur…tur tur’.

The sound of the song, which is like the sound of a 1970s Trimphone for those who remember back that far, is what gave this bird its name: turtle dove. Listen very closely and you will hear that the paired notes are themselves in pairs, giving a gently rolling rhythm: “one two (pause) three four (pause)”.

Turtle doves then...

When I was a boy in rural Worcestershire in the 1980s, this was a bird that would sing from the overgrown hedgerows by the allotments. It would sometimes even turn up in the ash tree at the bottom of my garden.

I wouldn’t hear it until May when it had returned from Africa, so this was the sound that, rather than a feature of spring, seemed to be a prelude to high summer. It is a sound that fills me with memories of long, lazy days in the sunshine.

Often it was hard to see a singing bird, for they hide well among the thick foliage, but every now and then one would perch to sing in full view. Then you’d be able to appreciate this dainty dove, with its ‘bar coding’ marks on its neck and gorgeous scalloping on its back.

... and now

That is now just a distant memory. You would be hard-pushed these days to find a single turtle dove in the whole of Worcestershire. The extent of their decline is shocking, down 98% in barely 40 years. To hear one these days you really need to go to the far south and east of England, and even then you’ll need to search far and wide, looking for old, rambling hedgerows in farmland that is not managed too intensively.

This is the bird most likely to become extinct in the UK. For a species to totally disappear from our landscape would be a tragedy and a travesty. The good news is that we understand many of the reasons that are driving the turtle dove to the edge. There just aren’t the weed seeds in the fields for them to feed on, they aren't in a fit enough condition to make enough nesting attempts, plus they encounter all sorts of problems on their international migrations to and from Africa, including hunting.

Through our Operation Turtle Dove, we are attempting to work with landowners and farmers to give turtle doves the conditions they require to produce as many chicks as possible. We are also researching their migratory routes and raising international awareness of their plight. There are some small but encouraging signs of success, but the situation remains desperate.

Where to hear a turtle dove

Finding a place where you can still guarantee to hear the turtle dove is increasingly difficult. Places to try include several in Suffolk such as RSPB Fowlmere, RSPB Minsmere and RSPB North Warren, and Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Lackford Lakes. Also, the Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve at Woods Mill and RSPB Old Hall in Essex. I made the recordings near to Woods Mill.

Want to learn more about birdsong?

Adrian’s new book and recordings, The RSPB Guide to Birdsong, was released this April. Proceeds from those sold through the RSPB shop go to nature conservation

Chart success!

Let Nature Sing was your opportunity to put the birds you care about on the main stage. Thanks to you, we reached #18 in the charts! Thank you for helping us make history. Don’t forget you can still buy/stream the song and show your support for nature.

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