The turtle dove has long been a symbol of Christmas and the loving bonds that bring us together at this time of year. But now the 12 Days of Christmas risks becoming 11, as the iconic species comes increasingly under threat. The bird’s distinctive, purring call was once a common feature of the British countryside. Now it has become increasingly rare as the birds are confined to ever-shrinking patches of East Anglia and the south-east. The latest figures show that we have lost a shocking nine in 10 turtle doves in the UK since 1970.
The decline has been so dramatic that earlier this year the turtle dove was added to an official “red list” of highly endangered species, alongside lions and elephants. The stark truth is that unless we take action to protect them, we risk losing this treasured bird from the UK altogether within the next decade. There are four main factors behind the huge fall in turtle dove numbers: the loss of suitable habitat in both their breeding and non-breeding ranges; and potentially unsustainable levels of hunting and disease.
In Kent, where a breeding pair can still be found, the RSPB is working with local farmers to create more nesting and feeding habitat for turtle doves breeding grounds as part of Operation Turtle Dove – a partnership with Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, and Natural England. This vital project is developing practical solutions to reverse the decline in turtle dove numbers and help them to thrive. Their work is strengthened by the EU’s conservation laws which protect areas with precious natural habitats like Dungeness from overdevelopment. Together the Birds and Habitats directives, the backbone of the EU’s nature conservation policy, provide a powerful framework for protecting threatened species across Europe.
Redbridge Nature Conservation Team