Rare dove joins the fight against illegal bird slaughter


The Turtle Dove, a symbol of love and peace, can now also be considered a symbol of conservation, thanks to the funds raised by the surprise appearance of one in Oxfordshire.

Within hours of the arrival of the Oriental Turtle Dove in a garden in Chipping Norton one chilly February morning, a queue of people had developed outside the house. The garden's owner, wildlife lover and RSPB member Steve Akers, decided to seize the opportunity and raise money for a cause he was extremely concerned about, by asking for a £5-per-head donation for a 10-minute viewing of the bird from his kitchen.

Decidedly off-course, the bird was lucky to find itself in the garden of a keen birdwatcher, where it not only received a good supply of food but also kept over 600 birders happy and raised over £3,000 for the fight against illegal bird-hunting in Malta.

Oriental (Rufous) Turtle Dove
Oriental (Rufous) Turtle Dove, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire (Photo: Graham Watson)

For many birds, Malta is a vital migration stepping stone where they can stop to rest and feed to build up strength for the last leg of their journey. Protected birds of many species, from Cuckoos to storks, are widely persecuted every year while migrating over Malta; however, birds of prey and herons are amongst the most widely persecuted. Despite the Maltese government making this practice illegal, the hardiest of hunters have not been deterred and continue to break the law, killing not only Turtle Doves but a huge range of other species.

Oriental (Rufous) Turtle Dove
Oriental (Rufous) Turtle Dove, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire (Photo: Kevin Du Rose)

Stopping the illegal slaughter of birds in Malta is a campaign led by BirdLife Malta and supported by the RSPB. An analysis by BirdLife Malta showed that from 2007–10 at least 79 species of bird were shot illegally, including 17 species of birds of prey.

Steve Akers said: "When I realised the bird in my garden was an Oriental Turtle Dove, I instantly thought of BirdLife Malta's campaign, which I'd heard about through the RSPB. It made sense that all the people queuing up outside my house would be as upset as me by the heartless killing spree that goes on in Malta each year and would want to support the cause, so I started asking for donations and everyone was more than happy to put their hands in their pockets."

Dr Tim Stowe, RSPB's International Director, said: "Thanks to some great initiative, Steve stepped up for nature and encouraged like-minded people to join the fight and raise some much-needed funds for this cause. A huge amount of work and effort has been put in by the RSPB and BirdLife Malta to try and end the illegal slaughter of birds, calling for tougher action to be taken by the Maltese authorities against these law-breaking hunters."

Geoffrey Saliba, BirdLife Malta's Campaign's Co-ordinator, added: "We can't thank Mr Akers and his family enough. Not only have they raised vital funds to help us continue our battle to make the passage across the island a safe one, they've also helped to spread the word about this problem, which also affects UK birds. Illegal hunting across Malta is a national and international problem and a criminal act that defies national and international law. It must be stopped now."

BirdGuides filmed the handover of the cheque from the Akers family to BirdLife Malta outside the Maltese Embassy on a very noisy Piccadilly in central London.

Written by: RSPB