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One of the UK’s fastest-declining wild bird species, the Turtle Dove, has been thrown a “lifeline” by the European Commission, who have recommended that none will be hunted in south-west Europe in 2023 for the third year running.
This globally threatened migratory bird has suffered steep declines in the UK, and in neighbouring countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, since the 1970s, primarily due to changes to farming practices but with the situation made worse by unsustainable hunting in south–west Europe.
All UK-breeding Turtle Doves spend the winter in West Africa, migrating via south-west Europe in both autumn and spring. When here in the UK, Turtle Doves breed in key areas of southern and eastern England, with the first few returning birds spotted in the UK last week.
Hunting of the birds has taken place for many years in France, Spain and Portugal, and prior to 2018, around one million Turtle Doves were being hunted each autumn across these three countries alone. Meanwhile, agricultural changes here at home have caused a loss of suitable habitat for the birds that make it to the UK to raise the next generation, leaving just 2,100 breeding territories remaining in the UK according to a 2021 study.
As Dr Guy Anderson, Migrants Recovery Programme Manager for RSPB describes: “By introducing this hunting moratorium for the third year running in south–west Europe, Turtle Doves that migrate across this region and breed the whole way across western Europe – including the UK - have been thrown a vital lifeline at a time where their declines are a real cause for concern for conservation organisations across the continent”
“While hunting has exacerbated the problems caused for these birds by agricultural changes, the UK has an important role to play in ensuring that plenty of good quality habitat is available for them on their return. This moratorium brings an ideal window of opportunity to really ramp up our efforts. To save these beloved birds, we have to take a two-pronged approach to tackle both problems at the same time”
The RSPB and partners are working with growing numbers of fantastic farmers and landowners here in the UK as part of Operation Turtle Dove to reverse the fortunes of this beloved summer visitor. Driving forward the restoration and creation of more Turtle Dove breeding habitat - from thick thorny scrub and hedgerows to nest in, to plenty of flower and weed seeds that provide a source of energy- there is huge enthusiasm for helping this bird.
As Guy continues: “While working with farmers and landowners to deliver Turtle Dove friendly habitat is key to securing their future in the UK, the Governments of the UK must continue to support and reward those taking nature-friendly measures on their land through ambitious agri-environment schemes. Without this support, we stand to lose out on a vital opportunity to secure the future of the Turtle Dove, as well as putting other farmland wildlife at risk of further declines.”
Businesses, conservation groups, volunteer and community led initiatives are all helping, alongside farmers and landowners, to support these beloved birds, focusing effort in “Turtle Dove friendly zones” in eastern and south-eastern England. Creating habitat features – from hedgerows to ponds and wildflower lawns – even in gardens and local greenspaces can benefit Turtle Doves on their return to the UK, as well as a whole host of other wildlife. To find out more about how the project is working to save Turtle Doves in the UK, and how you can get involved, visit operationturtledove.org