An urgent mission is underway to save one of our most threatened birds. The Turtle Dove is considered to be the bird most likely to be extinct in the UK by 2020. A three-year project will be led by the RSPB and aims to reverse the decline in these farmland birds.
The Turtle Dove population has fallen by more than 90 % in the last 14 years. Possible reasons for this decline include scarcity of the right food plants, illegal hunting in the Mediterranean and disease. The conservation bodies involved will concentrate on restoring the plants that the birds rely on, here in the UK.
Changes in farming practices in recent decades have meant that flowers that grow amongst crops, such as fumitory and clover, are now very scarce. The dove relies on foraging seed from these plants, and so the team hopes to work closely with farmers to grow these plants on their land once again.
RSPB spokeswoman Heather Griffiths said: "We known that farms have to be modern and commercially successful. So we look at how to put in wild seed bird plots on less productive areas of the farm - perhaps corners of fields that are difficult to plough - where they can make a big difference to wildlife without having an impact on the productivity of the farm."
Working closely with the RSPB is the sustainable farming organisation Conservation Grade and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust in Norfolk. Researchers at Pensthorpe will be carrying out "taste tests" with different types of seeds on captive turtle doves. Tim Nevard, executive director of Conservation Grade and a Pensthorpe trustee, said: "We will trial a number of seed mixtures to identify the most palatable and nutritious options - from breeding to fledging and beyond - so that the right choices about forage habitat creation can be made. We will be working closely with Natural England, our nationwide farmer network and commercial partners to encourage widespread uptake of these habitats."
But Ms Griffiths added that a retraction in the Turtle Dove’s' range appeared to be a key cause of its UK decline. She said: "We've gained a lot of information about where they're going, and it really does seem to be about range retraction. If we don't act now, we really could lose them from the UK completely."