Last year’s national Turtle Dove survey confirms the fears that numbers are precariously low with an estimate of only 2,100 pairs in England. The sobering reality is that in the 1970s the population was estimated at 125,000.  A 98% decline in such an iconic species during the lifetime of many active bird watchers means that it’s slipping from the consciousness of the wider public.  Will turtle doves only linger as a Christmas card image?

But there is hope.......

First of all, it's important to understand why we’ve seen this catastrophic decline. Research reveals that there are two main factors here; the loss of suitable breeding habitat, and the unsustainable levels of hunting the birds suffer as they migrate through South Western Europe.

As Phil Grice, Principal Specialist for Ornithology at Natural England, explains: ‘The fact that no hunting is currently permitted on the Western European flyway provides us with a huge window of opportunity to reverse the decline in arguably one of England’s most threatened bird species’.

Turning to the situation in Kent there is room for some optimism.  KOS led the survey in the county and huge thanks are due to the volunteers who stepped up to take part. The survey revealed an estimate of 700 pairs which represents a third of the overall English total. This is encouraging, as the best estimate prior to this was between 200 and 400 pairs.

Dr André Farrar, Chair of KOS, said: ‘Thanks to the efforts of over 120 volunteers brought together by the Kent Ornithological Society, we now know that Kent is on the front line of efforts to stop and reverse the catastrophic decline of our Turtle Doves.  Despite the grim national picture, numbers in Kent give room for some optimism and should encourage farmers, landowners, advisors, volunteers and birders to redouble our efforts.  Reversing the fortunes of Turtle Doves in Kent and beyond is a great ambition, and will require both targeted conservation action and landscape scale initiatives to succeed.’

 Operation Turtle Dove is a partnership – between the RSPB, Fair to Nature, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England – aimed at reversing the decline in this beloved farmland bird. The project is driving forward the restoration and creation of Turtle Dove breeding habitat, which holds the key to securing a future for Turtle Doves in the UK.  A team of advisors is on hand to provide guidance to land managers on creating Turtle Dove habitat and providing supplementary feeding.

Here in Kent, Operation Turtle Dove is led by RSPB’s  - and KOS member - Nicole Khan, and there is now a developing, extensive and enthusiastic network of farmers and landowners supported by volunteers.  It is encouraging that Turtle Doves are holding their own in their most important county.  The results of the 2021 Turtle Dove survey give huge encouragement to the need to redouble our efforts in the coming years to ensure that there is a brighter future for these wonderful birds in Kent.

The 2021 National Turtle Dove Survey was a partnership project coordinated by the RSPB, Rare Breeding Birds Panel and Kent Ornithological Society, with support from British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The Turtle Dove survey is part of ‘Action for Birds in England’, a conservation partnership between Natural England and the RSPB.

TurtleDovePicture2© Martin Garwood

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