Dove love

Projects aimed at re­vers­ing the de­cline in Tur­tle Dove num­bers should be cel­e­brated, writes

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - Neil Glenn

How bird­watch­ers are help­ing re­verse the de­cline in Tur­tle Dove num­bers

There is a phenomenon whereby hu­mans be­come im­mune to the horrors of news heaped upon us 24 hours a day. It is very dif­fi­cult to es­cape the con­stant bom­bard­ment of bad news in this mul­ti­me­dia mod­ern world of ours. My Face­book feed pours in tales of what the hu­man species has done to an­other of our planet’s crea­tures with alarm­ing reg­u­lar­ity. It would be so easy for us to ig­nore the fact that the Tur­tle Dove pop­u­la­tion in Bri­tain has re­duced by 93% since 1994. I know you have read this many times be­fore, but please read it once again and take a few mo­ments for it to ac­tu­ally sink in: the Tur­tle Dove pop­u­la­tion in Bri­tain has re­duced by 93% since 1994. Quite a few of you will pass over this sim­ple but shock­ing fact and move on with your daily lives. That is fair enough but, for­tu­nately, a few in­di­vid­u­als and groups found this too much to stom­ach and de­cided to do some­thing about it. These are a few of their sto­ries... I will come on to large con­ser­va­tion NGOS later, but first here’s some de­tails of a cou­ple of ‘smaller’ projects run by in­di­vid­u­als to high­light the fact that ev­ery lit­tle bit of help Tur­tle Doves can get is vi­tally im­por­tant.

Sta­ple diet

It is a bit­terly cold and damp Fe­bru­ary day when I visit a Kent vil­lage to find out about a pri­vate patch of land man­aged for Tur­tle Doves. There are no Tur­tle Doves here to­day, of course; hope­fully they are safe and warm on their win­ter­ing grounds of Africa! When David and Brid­get Bur­ridge moved into their beau­ti­ful cot­tage 10 years ago, they were al­ready aware of the shock­ing plight of the Tur­tle Dove. What soon be­came ob­vi­ous was that their quiet vil­lage was some­thing of a haven for this be­lea­guered species. Ev­ery April to Au­gust, they could hear the gen­tle purring – or should I say

‘tur-tur­ring’ – from their bed­room win­dow. How I wish I could hear that gen­tle sound as my alarm call! Spring walks along the vil­lage lanes helped the Bur­ridges dis­cover a fo­cal point for Tur­tle Dove ac­tiv­ity: a small half acre plot which the lo­cal nurs­ery used for the pro­duc­tion of wall­flow­ers. Once har­vested, the land was left fal­low un­til the fol­low­ing year. Tur­tle Doves used this ‘set-aside’ as a feed­ing sta­tion, while nest­ing in un­kempt ar­eas of scrub in sur­round­ing ar­eas. It was when the land came up for sale that the Bur­ridges ap­proached their friends David and Ann Tingey in the lo­cal Black Pig pub about ac­quir­ing the land for the Tur­tle Doves This happy band of dove devo­tees formed the Tur­tle Dove Sum­mer Field (TDSF). Be­fore go­ing ahead, the group con­sulted the RSPB to see if it was worth­while pur­chas­ing the plot. Af­ter pos­i­tive feed­back, the pur­chase went ahead and the hard work be­gan. It was now time to make the vil­lage even more at­trac­tive to Tur­tle Doves. Vil­lagers were en­cour­aged to keep ar­eas of their gar­dens un­kempt to pro­vide nest­ing sites for the doves. Un­im­proved habi­tat around the vil­lage was also en­cour­aged. It was all very well hav­ing suit­able feed­ing grounds for the doves but they also needed nest sites to keep

Vil­lagers were en­cour­aged to keep ar­eas of their gar­dens un­kempt to pro­vide nest­ing sites for the doves. Un­im­proved habi­tat around the vil­lage was also en­cour­aged

them in the lo­cal area! Once vil­lagers had be­come en­thused by the project, a meet­ing was held at the vil­lage hall to keep them up to date with what had been go­ing on. The packed gath­er­ing pro­duced more do­na­tions from lo­cal peo­ple and gen­er­ated tremen­dous in­ter­est among the small com­mu­nity. Fur­ther funds were sought – and granted – from pro­ceeds of the vil­lage fête, which are do­nated to lo­cal projects each year. Best4hedg­ing do­nated hedg­ing plants and The Wood­land Trust do­nated some saplings to pro­vide a liv­ing screen for the plot so the doves weren’t dis­turbed when feed­ing. On­go­ing re­search by Op­er­a­tion Tur­tle Dove part­ners into the fea­tures Tur­tle Doves pre­ferred, prompted TDSF mem­bers to cre­ate a pond on their land. Tur­tle Doves feed en­tirely on dry seed, so they need a reg­u­lar sup­ply of clean, fresh water. Per­sonal ob­ser­va­tion by the group noted that the doves pre­ferred bare earth to land and for­age on, so more of this type of habi­tat was cre­ated. The largest bare spot – di­rectly in front of the pri­vate hide in David and Brid­get’s gar­den which backs onto the Tur­tle Dove plot – is ro­ta­vated ev­ery three weeks and for eight weeks fol­low­ing the birds’ ar­rival, fresh seed is put down weekly to help the doves reach breed­ing con­di­tion quickly. As well as pro­vid­ing seed di­rectly, the TDSF mem­bers also planted a mix of na­tive plants that would pro­duce seeds that the doves could har­vest them­selves; Fu­mi­tory, Bird’s-foot Tre­foil, and vetch. This plant mix es­tab­lished well on the field, but, cru­cially, re­tained enough bare ground within it to al­low the doves to ac­cess the home-grown seeds. Tur­tle Doves are a bit claus­tro­pho­bic when feed­ing and they will avoid fight­ing their way through dense ground veg­e­ta­tion. When it comes to choos­ing scrub, hedge or thicket to hide a nest, how­ever, the thicker and denser the bet­ter. TDSF mem­bers noted that within the mix of new plants, Tur­tle Doves of­ten went straight for the Fu­mi­tory, shak­ing the plants to dis­lodge the seeds. This fits with the re­sults of stud­ies that have shown Fu­mi­tory to be among the seed types most favoured by Tur­tle Doves. In the sum­mer of 2016, TDSF noted eight Tur­tle Doves on their blos­som­ing sanc­tu­ary. This is one of the high­est con­cen­tra­tions of the species in the whole of Kent! Pleas­ingly, the group also noted their first ju­ve­nile bird on the cleared feed­ing ar­eas. En­cour­ag­ingly, the group has now seen ev­i­dence of Tur­tle Doves rais­ing a sec­ond brood in one sea­son: suc­cess! In to­tal, 10 Red Listed species of birds have been recorded on this small plot! It just goes to show that you don’t have to pro­tect huge tracts of land to give birds (and other wildlife) a help­ing hand. The Sta­ple group of friends now has a su­perb feed­ing area for Tur­tle Doves and the whole vil­lage is ex­tremely proud to be the Kent Cap­i­tal of Tur­tle Doves. Along­side work­ing with TDSF, Ni­cole Khan, the RSPB’S Tur­tle Dove Con­ser­va­tion Ad­vi­sor, was in di­a­logue

with Kent farm­ers to see if any were in­ter­ested in help­ing cre­ate or pre­serve habi­tat for the strug­gling dove. The re­sponse from the Kent farm­ing com­mu­nity has been ex­tremely pos­i­tive, and it was clear that many farm­ers had a real sense of pride that their farms are help­ing to sup­port such a charis­matic and rare species. Hav­ing worked closely with TDSF to en­sure their site was suc­cess­ful, Ni­cole was then able to point farm­ers in the direc­tion of Sta­ple and show them just how lit­tle land was needed to make a dif­fer­ence! This pri­vate haven for Tur­tle Doves is not open to the pub­lic. If you would like to see this charis­matic species in Kent, then head for Stod­marsh NNR, where one or two pairs can be found. RSPB sites where Tur­tle Doves can be seen in­clude Framp­ton Marsh, Lin­colnshire, Ot­moor, Ox­ford­shire, Mins­mere, Suffolk, Titch­well, Nor­folk and Fowlmere, in Cam­bridgeshire.

On­go­ing re­search

In the spring of 2013, I wrote about Tur­tle Doves in Bird Watch­ing magazine. I was able to re­port on a rel­a­tively new project, set up in May 2012: Op­er­a­tion Tur­tle Dove (OTD). This was a joint part­ner­ship be­tween the RSPB, Nat­u­ral Eng­land, Pen­sthorpe Con­ser­va­tion Trust and Con­ser­va­tion Grade. The lat­ter is an in­de­pen­dent ac­cred­i­ta­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion that fa­cil­i­tates com­mer­cial re­la­tion­ships be­tween farm­ers and con­sumers in the UK through a unique sys­tem of sus­tain­able farm­ing, founded on science and com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity. I was ea­ger to find out if any progress had been made. Much re­search has been done (and con­tin­ues to be done) into ex­actly what makes for suc­cess­ful ar­eas for Tur­tle Doves. OTD re­search has found adult birds are tak­ing longer to reach breed­ing fit­ness, so are not hav­ing as many broods as they were in the 1960s (four broods then com­pared with one or two broods now). Could this pos­si­bly be due to a lack of suit­able food in the coun­try­side? Feed­ing tri­als with cap­tive birds at Pen­sthorpe came up with a mix of seeds, in­clud­ing Fu­mi­tory, to fur­ther try out in known Tur­tle Dove ar­eas. There is now a two-year trial in East Anglia and Kent with this seed mix to see if it boosts Tur­tle Dove breed­ing suc­cess. Pen­sthorpe has been out and about talk­ing with farm­ers in Nor­folk. This di­a­logue helped the cre­ation of a clus­ter farm group; a col­lec­tion of farms be­ing ad­vised how best to help lo­cal Tur­tle Doves. This in­cludes cre­at­ing ponds, cre­at­ing suit­able breed­ing habi­tat, pro­mot­ing the pro­vi­sion of feed­ing ar­eas and en­gag­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Cit­i­zen science also plays a part: bird­watch­ers are be­ing asked to re­port sight­ings of Tur­tle Doves to build up a data­base of ar­eas to tar­get with con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. The ef­forts of Op­er­a­tion Tur­tle Dove to en­gage with farm­ers has been a suc­cess. In to­tal, 64,000ha of farm­land now has Tur­tle Dove con­ser­va­tion mea­sures in place; this is an area more than one and a half times the size of the Isle of Wight! Ad­vi­sors have also helped un­lock some £16 mil­lion worth of fund­ing for farm­ers to carry out agri-en­vi­ron­ment schemes which will ben­e­fit the birds. Fund­ing, in­clud­ing that from Dove Step, means OTD can utilise satel­lite track­ing to find out ex­actly where the doves go when leav­ing our shores for the win­ter. Com­pre­hen­sive mon­i­tor­ing of sites in Sene­gal has re­sulted in 247 acres of Aca­cia wood­land be­ing pro­tected, where there is a size­able roost of Tur­tle Doves – more than 33,000 have been counted at this roost! Other sur­veys are be­ing funded in dry sa­van­nah zones from Sene­gal to Mali. If re­searchers can find out what at­tracts so many birds to these large roosts (a good sup­ply of seed food nearby and the pres­ence of per­ma­nent water?), then maybe sim­i­lar sites could be cre­ated and pro­tected. So, it seems there is hope for the Red Listed Tur­tle Dove in Bri­tain with the help of large con­ser­va­tion groups, smaller con­ser­va­tion projects and con­cerned, en­thu­si­as­tic in­di­vid­u­als. We can all do our lit­tle bit. Let us hope this sym­bol of ev­er­last­ing love will be with us for a long time to come…


One of the Sta­ple ju­ve­nile Tur­tle Doves

The site for Tur­tle Doves at Sta­ple

Hide and seek – watch­ing Tur­tle Doves at Sta­ple

David and Ann Tingey (left) and David and Brid­get Bur­ridge (right) of the Tur­tle Dove Sum­mer Field (TDSF) Project with Ni­cole Khan, RSPB Tur­tle Dove Con­ser­va­tion Ad­vi­sor (cen­tre)

Tur­tle Doves love to feed on Fu­mi­tory

Nat­u­rally, doves need water as well as food, shel­ter and some­where to nest

A pair of Tur­tle Doves show off their dis­tinc­tive tail pat­tern in flight

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