East Anglian farms urged to sign up to help the turtle dove after Government’s stewardship funding pledge

A pair of turtle doves.
Photo: Richard Bennett

A pair of turtle doves. Photo: Richard Bennett - Credit: Archant

Farmers in turtle dove “hotspots” in East Anglia and the South East are being urged to apply for Countryside Stewardship agreements to help the UK’s fastest declining bird.

The move by Operation Turtle Dove comes after Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond confirmed that European Union-funded projects already in place or signed before this year’s Autumn Statement will be honoured after the UK leaves the EU.

Countryside Stewardship agri-environment agreements offer farmers financial support to manage parts of their farms for wildlife, and many farmers are already taking advantage of this support to help turtle doves, whose numbers have declined by 93% since 1994.

Samantha Lee of Operation Turtle Dove said: “We’re breathing a sigh of relief, along with a lot of farmers who want to help wildlife like turtle doves on their farms. The immediate question about whether Countryside Stewardship agreements in the pipeline will be funded appears to have been answered.

“Natural England, which administers Countryside Stewardship in this country, has been doing an admirable job in difficult circumstances since Brexit threw the future of Countryside Stewardship into doubt. Now hopefully DEFRA will support Natural England with the resources to process farmers’ applications during the current window, so that our farm wildlife and environment does not lose out as we navigate Brexit.”

Operation Turtle Dove is a partnership supported by organisations including the RSPB, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Conservation Grade

The Pensthorpe trust is working alongside farmers in a Countryside Stewardship-facilitated group in the Upper Wensum in Norfolk to create and enhancing vital foraging and nesting habitat for turtle doves, which will also benefit many other farmland bird species.

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Elsewhere in East Anglia, Samantha Lee, an RSPB farm conservation adviser, has been working closely with farmers to tailor turtle dove management options to their individual farms and support Countryside Stewardship applications.

Farmers have also played a valuable role in helping to monitor turtle dove numbers, investigate the reasons for their decline and test solutions that, it is hoped, hold the key to saving them.

Samantha Lee said it was hoped the assurance on funding from the Chancellor would give more farmers who want to help threatened wildlife such as turtle doves the confidence to apply for the Countryside Stewardship scheme, the current window for which is open until the end of September.