Blog post by Simon Wotton, Senior Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science.

Survey plans

The Rare Breeding Birds Panel and RSPB, with the support of BTO, Natural England and many county bird clubs, have been planning to run the first National Turtle Dove Survey, due to start this year subject to Covid-19 conditions. Given the late start of this survey and the proposed reduction in restrictions, we are hopeful that the survey will still be able to go ahead as planned.

The national survey hopes to mobilise volunteers, farmers, study groups, county bird clubs and other organisations to record turtle dove across their UK range.

The results of the survey will give us a comprehensive overview of the current size and distribution of the UK's remaining breeding turtle dove population.  This will allow us to assess the progress of conservation work to date and help ensure that future conservation efforts are targeted to where they will have the greatest impact.

The national survey runs between mid-May and the end of July 2021.

Turtle dove in Bedfordshire © Ben Andrew (

As well as recording turtle doves, surveyors will also be asked to keep an eye out for other birds of conservation interest in the same areas. The resources that turtle doves need during the breeding season – seeds from annual or perennial low-growing plants (such as weeds), accessible fresh water from drinking and bathing, and dense scrubby vegetation (preferably native broad-leaved thorny scrub/hedgerows) – are also good for other woodland and farmland birds.

How to get involved

Surveys will aim to detect the presence and abundance of turtle doves within each selected 1km-square, with two visits between mid-May and the end of July. Each survey should be undertaken between sunrise and 0900: 70% of singing males should be detected within the first 2 hours after sunrise, after which vocal activity decreases markedly. The time taken for the survey will depend on the density of field boundaries.

The turtle dove survey webhub includes all the information needed to take part in the survey

The Homepage provides a brief survey summary, including a list of partners; while the Take Part page allows people to select survey squares and download survey instructions. 

The locations of proposed survey squares are shown on the interactive map on the Take Part page; with squares still available to survey shown in blue, and those already allocated displayed in yellow. Available squares can be selected by clicking on them. This should then take you to a link where you can email a request.

We will then get back to you ASAP to confirm your request. Alternatively, you can email this address directly to request a square. Survey forms can be found on the Resources tab of the web hub. You will also be able to submit your records through the webhub when you have finished your surveys: this feature will be available on the web hub after the survey starts.

The Kent Ornithological Society is running a county-wide turtle dove survey in 2021, as part of the national survey so all squares in Kent are shown as white on the map.  For more details on the survey in Kent, visit here.

The National Turtle Dove Survey is part-funded by Natural England through its Action for Birds in England (AFBiE) programme.

For more information on turtle doves, check the following websites:

Operation Turtle Dove

BTO Turtle Dove BirdTrends

RSPB Helping Species: Turtle Dove

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