‘Disaster’ as partridge and turtle dove decline

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Two of the UK’s best-known Christmas birds have seen major declines in the past few years, as farmland bird numbers fell to new record lows, figures show.

Turtle doves and grey partridges, which feature in the song the Twelve Days of Christmas, have seen numbers plummet by almost 60 per cent and 30 per cent respectively in the five years to 2010, in what conservationists described as a “wildlife disaster”.

The RSPB warned that if turtle dove numbers continued to decline at current rates, there could be fewer than 1,000 pairs by the middle of the next decade and the farmland bird could be facing extinction in the UK.

Turtle doves were once widespread in southern Britain but the population is now estimated at just 14,000 pairs, down to less than a tenth of 1970 levels.

The grey partridge population is estimated to be around 43,000 pairs, but it too has seen numbers tumble by more than nine-tenths in four decades. Experts do not know exactly why numbers are declining.

RSPB scientist Dr Mark Eaton said: “Losing six out of 10 of our turtle doves and three out of 10 grey partridges in five years is... a wildlife disaster.”