Pledge a Pitch for turtle doves and help save them from extinction in the UK!

Kent is one of the few remaining UK breeding strongholds for turtle dove, but a lack of suitable habitat still means these birds are not breeding here as successfully as they once did. Turtle doves have suffered a 94% UK population decline since 1995 and are now Vulnerable to Global Extinction.

If we don’t act now, these iconic birds could disappear forever.

The ultimate ‘love birds’, turtle doves are recognisable by their purring call and tortoiseshell feathering. They are often seen in pairs and are featured as romantic icons throughout music and literature by writers such as Shakespeare, Chaucer and Carol Anne Duffy. If you’ve ever hung a dove shaped ornament on your Christmas tree, it is likely to be based on the two turtle doves mentioned in the 12 Days of Christmas carol.

Managing a small pitch of land, around the same area as a family size tent (approx. 5 x 8 foot) can make all the difference for these evocative birds and help them to inspire art and culture for generations to come. 

With your help, we want to create a patchwork of ponds, scrub and native wildflower plots throughout Kent, to help these special birds breed more successfully across the county.

You don’t need to personally own the land you pledge, it can be community land such as a park or greenspace, a local school grounds or even the edge of a local golf course! You just need to make sure you have the landowner’s permission to make some small changes for nature.

What do turtle doves need?

Unlike many other threatened species, turtle doves can become regular visitors to gardens, community green spaces and churchyards; provided there is the right food, water and shelter to attract them.

We’re working with campsite, vineyard and even business park owners to help create better habitat for the rare turtle doves that have been spotted there!

They have three basic requirements; turtle doves choose to nest in a tangle of dense native hedgerow and scrub, like to forage on the ground for native wildflower seed and need water sources with shallow edges to drink from.

Young turtle doves do not venture far when they first leave the nest, so the key thing is to have all of these features close together in known nesting areas.

I'm keen to help! What can I do?

Feed the birds

Feeding the birds is a great way to encourage wildlife into your garden. We are getting increasing reports of turtle doves feeding in Kent gardens, so you may even attract your own. Ensure you follow a hygiene regime for seed feeders. If you have a large garden and are in an area you know has turtle doves, you could try putting down a special supplementary feed mix designed specifically for them. Learn more

Create a native foraging patch

Either plant a small patch of native wildflowers such as birds foot trefoil, early white clover and fumitory, or if you are on a light soil, you could try cultivating a small patch of ground and allow for natural regeneration. Turtle doves feed on seeds of native wildflowers, but it’s important that these areas are not too high or dense – they need patches of bare ground within the foraging habitat to allow them easy access to get at the seeds. The great thing about creating native wildflower areas is that this habitat will have benefits for many other species too – including other birds, bees and butterflies. Learn more

Create a wildlife pond

Turtle doves, like all birds, will need somewhere to drink. A wildlife pond would be the ideal – with gentle slopping edges to allow birds easy access to the water’s edge. Look to install native oxygenating plants to help keep your pond clean and healthy. If you don’t have room for a pond, putting water put for the birds is always a good idea (i.e a bird bath). The key thing is to maintain good hygiene and ensure the water is changed regularly. Learn more

Nesting habitat

If you are fortunate to have an area of scrub or hedgerow in the garden, then the best thing to do would be allow these areas to thicken up. Turtle doves use thick scrubby areas for nesting and particularly like species such as hawthorn and blackthorn with native climbing plants such as bramble and old man’s beard. If you don’t have any native trees or shrubs in the garden, you could always consider planting your own hedgerow or scrubby patch. It may take some time to get to the size and height for turtle doves to use but the great thing is other species will be likely to use it in the meantime. Learn more

When do I need to pledge by?

Early Autumn to Winter is the best time to work on turtle dove habitat, as the birds will be safely sunning themselves in Africa, September is the perfect time to get started! Turtle doves return in April so to attract them to your land next summer, we would recommend that any habit works should be ready by then.

Our Conservation Advisor, Nicole Khan, can give you all the advice you need to help manage your pitch!

What if I don’t have any land to pledge?

We are always looking for volunteers, we may be able to pair you up with a community pitch near you or you could help us with surveying for turtle doves in your local area. Do get in touch if you want to help out!

How can my efforts help other wildlife?

The ideal turtle dove habitat can also be great for other birds, butterflies, bees and mammals too, so by helping them, you can help a whole host of wildlife in your local area. Some of our project partners have attracted other threatened species such as yellowhammer, linnets, yellow wagtails and hedgehogs.

It’s a great project for teaching kids and communities about conservation too, so if you’ve been looking for something positive to do to improve your local area for wildlife, why not choose this?

What is the RSPB doing for turtle doves?

Since 2012, the RSPB has been working as part of Operation Turtle Dove to help ensure that these rare migratory doves continue to breed where they still hold breeding territories, mainly in Kent, Sussex, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. We have also been undertaking research into the declines, both in the UK and on migration routes. You can find out more about Operation Turtle Dove here.

Working with farmers and landowners, we have already helped protect acres of suitable habitat across Kent. Many of these sites now have regular returning birds and enjoy the sight of fledgling turtle doves feeding on the specially created plots.

For larger landowners, where turtle doves hold breeding territories, Operation Turtle Dove has developed a specialist seed mix, which can help supplement the bird’s diet during the key breeding season.

We are also helping farmers and landowners to access government funding to manage this important habitat, through agri-environment schemes. If you are a larger landowner in Kent or Sussex and want more information on managing your land for turtle doves, please do contact us!

To find out more about turtle doves, including details of the seed mix and the reasons for their global declines, visit www.operationturtledove.org  or watch our short video below

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