27/10/2020
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Volunteers needed for English turtle dove survey

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The RSPB is launching a nationwide survey to assess the breeding population of Britain's fastest-declining species, European Turtle Dove.

In conjunction with the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, BTO and Natural England, the co-ordinated national effort will take place in summer 2021 – depending on the state of the coronavirus situation and final budget confirmation.

Between 1995 and 2018, Britain lost 95% of its breeding European Turtle Doves. With numbers now so low and remnant breeding birds so scattered, monitoring is becoming increasingly difficult.


Formerly very common, Britain's European Turtle Dove population has crashed by 95% since 1995 (Chris Mayne).

Operation Turtle Dove and its many partners – farmers, land managers, communities, volunteers and organisations – have been working hard to improve the species' fortunes. Conservationists now have good scientific evidence to understand the causes of turtle dove decline, and therefore the confidence to know that they are persisting with the right conservation approach.

As well as providing good-quality habitat in the breeding season – plentiful and accessible seed food, fresh water and dense scrubby nesting habitat – the initiative is working to tackle unsustainable levels of hunting on turtle doves' migration route.

Although good progress is being made on both fronts, a good picture of where and how many birds now breed in the UK would both help assess Operation Turtle Dove's progress, and help identify priority areas where conservation action will be beneficial.

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European Turtle Dove is now largely restricted to East Anglia and parts of south-east England (Andrew Moon).

European Turtle Dove is a shy species and can easily hide away in areas of countryside that are seldom visited by birders or surveyors alike, and it seems likely that an intensive survey will reveal some breeding birds not previously known about.

As such Operation Turtle Dove is calling on experienced birders, study groups, county bird clubs and other organisations who can help with surveys between mid-May and early August next year.

Counties to be prioritised are: Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, as well as Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, East Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, South Yorkshire, Surrey and Warwickshire.

As well as recording turtle doves, surveyors will also be asked to keep an eye out for other birds of conservation interest in the same areas. The resources that doves need during the breeding season – seeds from annual or perennial low-growing plants such as weeds, accessible fresh water from drinking and bathing, and dense scrubby vegetation (preferably native broad-leaved thorny scrub/hedgerows) – are not unique to them.

Many areas that hold turtle doves are also good for other woodland and farmland birds, such as Common Linnet, Eurasian Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Sylvia warblers and Common Nightingale. The conservation work being carried out for turtle doves in the UK is highly likely to help a wide range of our wildlife – not just birds, but plants, insects and mammals, too.

If you are keen to be involved in this national survey, please contact Simon Wotton via email.