Gallery: Pride and pain in 700-mile labour of love for declining turtle dove population

Jonny Rankin has just returned from a 732 mile self propelled kayak, cycle and walk to Spain to rais

Jonny Rankin has just returned from a 732 mile self propelled kayak, cycle and walk to Spain to raise funds for Turtle Dove Conservation. Jonny is pictured in Needham Market. - Credit: Archant

An intrepid team of naturalists didn’t just talk the talk for one of Britain’s fastest declining bird species.

day 2 2nd - Kurt Finch, Jonny Rankin, Stu Moore, Andrew Goodrick, Ed King

day 2 2nd - Kurt Finch, Jonny Rankin, Stu Moore, Andrew Goodrick, Ed King

They walked the walk and kayaked and cycled too - all the way to Spain, as John Grant reports.

Suffolk naturalist Jonny Rankin and his fellow adventurers have certainly taken steps to help reverse the catastrophic decline of Britain’s turtle dove population.

In fact, this outward-bound band of all-action conservationists took millions of steps for the much-loved species that is in dire peril of being lost as a British breeding species. They took the steps - and they also paddled and peddled - in a gruelling 700-mile self-propelled challenge that took them from the Suffolk coast to the border of France and Spain.

In an epic fundraising and awareness-raising adventure that caught the imagination of nature lovers the length and breadth of Britain, the so-called DoveStep team completed the mind-and-muscle- sapping kayak, cycle and walk in 14 days.

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It was the latest DoveStep exploit in a series of efforts that have raised more than £6,246 in four years for turtle dove conservation - rising to about £7,500 with Gift Aid. The “turtle dove triathlon” that was competed a few days ago having so far raised more than £3,260 of the total, with funds still pouring in.

DoveStep co-ordinator Jonny Rankin, 31, of Bell Meadow, Bury St Edmunds, and colleague Stu Moore, of Toftwood, Dereham, completed the full 700-mile challenge.

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With fellow DoveStep members Ed King, of Diss, and Andrew Goldrick, of Sheffield, they were guided on their sea challenge from Aldeburgh to Shotley Marina - roughly the equivalent distance to crossing the English Channel - by professional kayaker, tour leader and coach Kurt Finch, who owns Suffolk-based Nomad Sea Kayaking. The kayak leg was completed over two days with an overnight “wild camp” at Shingle Street.

After a farewell to Mr Finch and a dash to Dover, the 540-mile cycling leg through France was led by experienced cyclist Ed Waterston, of Co Durham. At times covering more than 100 miles a day they reached Bordeaux. From there it was on foot to the Basque border town of Irun, with the team joined for the walking section by their DoveStep colleague Robert Yaxley, of Foulsham, Norfolk.

The DoveStep2 route mimicked part of the turtle dove’s autumnal migration route through Europe on its way to its wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.

After the team’s Herculean efforts, 31-year-old Mr Rankin was back in Suffolk this week and confessed to being mentally and physically exhausted on his return.

“It was epic - the distances we set ourselves and the times we had to keep to meant that the endurance was massive,” he said.

“I went from having eight of the best days of my life in the kayaking and cycling legs to a time on the walking leg that was harrowing and awful. There were times when I could barely move and I degraded, there were times when it was absolutely awful but the rest of the team kept me going.”

Mr Rankin suffered serious blisters on both feet and referred to walking on hard surfaces for mile after mile as “endurance in the truest sense”.

Spirits were frequently lifted by birds seen and heard by the team on their long journey south. Turtle doves appropriately were seen on a few occasions and other species that brought special relief included Bonelli’s warbler, melodious warbler, black kite, golden oriole and many singing firecrests, said Mr Rankin.

“It was like having a second job for the six months that were spent in the planning stage and I am sure that I will become increasingly pleased and proud of what we achieved as the recovery continues,” he said.

“There were more highs than lows out there and there will be something else for DoveStep in the future but I think our long-suffering patient partners need some breathing space for a while.

“Our motto is ‘Never Give Up’ and nor will we give up on turtle doves. Whilst there is a wealth of species very worthy of our attention and an equal number of campaigns - we like turtle doves!

“I feel this is a good reason to do our utmost for a species. Turtle doves also have the advantage of been indicative of our ailing farmland birds, migratory birds on the Afro-European flyway and those wintering in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, they are subject to almost all the conservation issues at large - habitat destruction, changes in agriculture, legal and illegal shooting and changes on the wintering grounds. We certainly do not intend to give up on them.”

The DoveStep initiative - named in a quirky reference to the dubstep genre of dance music - last year completed a 300-mile walk from the RSPB’s Lakenheath Fen nature reserve to the society’s Saltholme reserve in Teeeside. Funds raised were used to provide nine hectares of turtle dove habitat in the eastern region

All the money raised by DoveStep is given to Operation Turtle Dove, a partnership involving the RSPB, Natural England, the Norfolk-based Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Conservation Grade, a national wildlife-friendly farming protocol initiative.

The DoveStep initiative is continuing to raise funds and donations can be made via

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