New regime needed for threatened bird

turtle dove

turtle dove - Credit: Archant

A study carried out on six farms across East Anglia has recommended a new agri-environment management option that could help in the recovery of UK turtle dove populations.

Turtle dove Streptopelia turtur, standing on grass...
Andy Hay (

Turtle dove Streptopelia turtur, standing on grass... Andy Hay ( - Credit: Andy Hay (

The study, carried out by bird charity the RSPB and part-funded by Natural England through its Species Recovery Programme, found that cultivating grown seed with a mix of plant species in the autumn creates a habitat rich in seed that is easily accessible.

This makes it ideal for turtle doves, it says, which feed on seeds present on, or close to, the ground. The authors of the study also suggest that light cultivation or cutting during spring would better prevent the plots from becoming too overgrown and, therefore, unsuitable for turtle doves.

UK turtle dove populations have fallen 88% since 1995, with one cause for this decline thought to be the lack of seed from arable plants, which historically formed the bulk of turtle dove diet during the breeding season, resulting in a much shorter breeding season with fewer nesting attempts.

This latest research into the management of bespoke seed mixes to provide food for turtle doves, which was published in the Journal for Nature Conservation, is under consideration as a part of a modified version of the nectar flower mix option under the new Countryside Stewardship scheme and could be pivotal in providing food for turtle doves on farmland across the UK.

Patrick Barker, an arable farmer based at Westhorpe, near Stowmarket, who took part in the study, said: “It’s been great to be involved in this research and to find out how we can give turtle doves a hand. What was particularly striking was that the areas they prefer don’t look as you’d expect. For example, we learned that bare patches on the ground amongst the vegetation give them space to land and move around.

“I hope that our work here will encourage other farmers to do the same, and that this will help turtle doves return to the countryside.”

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The new management option is part of a wider ‘turtle dove package’, used in the Higher Level Stewardship scheme agreements on farms supporting turtle doves, which seeks to provide foraging habitat in proximity to nesting turtle doves.

Tony Morris, senior conservation scientist at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, said: “This research helps our understanding of how to provide food for turtle doves on farmland where the original sources of seed food have long since vanished but without unduly disrupting modern agriculture.

“Agri-environment schemes offer the best and perhaps last hope for this iconic species. We’re hopeful that, together with farmers and our partners in Operation Turtle Dove we can reverse the decline of this bird and secure its long-term future in Britain.”