Farmers and wildlife enthusiasts have rallied behind one of the English countryside’s most threatened birds, the turtle dove, after a terrible year for the species.
The farmland bird, closely associated with the festive season by the words to seasonal song Twelve Days of Christmas, is one of the fastest declining species in the country and conservationists at the RSPB say this year has been its worst yet.
Its numbers have crashed by 85 per cent since 1995, according to a ‘State of the UK’s Birds’ report released last week, and sightings this summer were at their lowest on record, the charity says.
The British Trust for Ornithology published its latest Bird Atlas earlier this year which revealed that the turtle dove’s range has shrunk dramatically by 52 per cent between 1970 and 2010.
To address the decline Operation Turtle Dove, a campaign to save the bird, has been set up by the RSPB, Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England.
The campaign was launched in May 2012 and has led to 1,250 people contacting the Operation Turtle Dove hotline in 2013 to report sightings. The public’s contribution has helped conservationists in their bid to establish a true picture of where the birds are nesting and foraging.
Simon Tonkin, farmland adviser for Operation Turtle Dove, said: “Although we sing about turtle doves at Christmas, in fact they are in their African wintering grounds at this time of year.
“But closer to home we believe it is the loss of arable plants from our countryside which is having a major impact on them. These birds spend the summer in England where they rely on wild plants for food – but the way we farm today has meant there is often no room for them at the edge of fields.”
Top counties for sightings are Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, Essex and Cambridgeshire.