Turtle Dove numbers in the UK have declined by 93% since 1994. This is a heartbreaking statistic. Its an emergency and many nature organisations are working hard to try to understand whats going on and support the species however they can.
These birds are migratory and only in the UK for a third of the year but this is where they breed. Although there is the problem of shooting as they migrate and loss of habitat in their winter ground in sub-Saharan Africa, it is thought that the recent tailspin in population numbers is because of whats going on here in the UK. In the 1960s, these birds were having several broods over the time they are in the UK. These days they are struggling to have a single brood and that is thought to be because they take a long time to get into breeding condition after arriving here because of a lack of available food.
The RSPB have appointed a Turtle Dove Conservation Officer and she came to see our meadows last week to advise on what we could do to create habitat that might suit some breeding Turtle Doves.
We already have the thorny dense thickety areas to nest in, available freshwater nearby since the young do not fly far and an abundance of some of the weed plants that they like such as Common Vetch and Clover.
What we are missing is bare earth. Apparently an ideal area for Turtle Doves would have 30-60% bare earth. Therefore, as a new nature project for 2018, we are going to hire a rotivator and plough up a 5m by 100m strip of ground to mimic an agricultural field edge which is where you would have traditionally seen these birds before it became the norm to kill off all the weeds at the sides of the fields with herbicides.
Additionally, the RSPB is going to provide us with a supply of seed, specially mixed with Turtle Doves in mind, to put out which would enable the birds to come into breeding condition more quickly and therefore have more time to maybe have more than one brood.
Turtle Doves are expected back in the UK in April. So by then we need to be all set up and ready. It may be that this just doesn’t work and no Doves eyes are caught by what we are offering as they fly over. But it has to be worth a try and creating an area of bare earth will benefit other species as well such as Yellowhammers and many butterflies and bees require the higher temperatures that bare earth reaches.
So the next job is to work out how to hire and operate a rotivator……