Blogger: Erica Howe, Communications Officer

It’s been a bit like a James Bond movie at work of late. Either that or I’ve been watching too much Homeland on TV! Over the past few weeks, we have been preparing a rather 007-like project. There have been phone calls with code acronyms, urgent meetings, file notes and tight deadlines. Sadly, Daniel Craig didn’t turn up to the office, but nonetheless it’s an exciting time.

The mission that we have taken on is called Operation Turtle Dove, code name OTD! Together with partners, we have a simple task to do - save the turtle dove from likely extinction.  

It sounds simple I suppose and in essence, it should be. However, the stark reality is that this beautiful bird is on a downward spiral. Now, I only caught a glimpse of my first turtle dove last year. I was out and about on a visit to RSPB Fowlmere nature reserve in Cambridgeshire and we could hear a deep, soft purring. It was coming from a nearby tree and it literally mesmerised us. As we stood listening, being soothed by this gentle sound, it occurred to me that this is a bird that I might witness go extinct in my lifetime. I was suddenly filled with sadness. That soft, gentle purring now sounded like a desperate plea.

Our brief for this mission is this: Turtle doves have declined by 91% since the 1970s and now there are just nine for every 100 there were 40 years ago. The cause of the population crash is not fully understood, but a study in the 1960’s showed that the birds’ diet consisted almost entirely of small seeds of wild plants. Changes in farming practices have led to the loss of such plants from our countryside.  Which brings us to today, the Operation Turtle Dove mission.

The project partners on this mission are the RSPB, Conservation Grade and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and together we plan to reverse the dark trajectory of the turtle dove. To do this, we need to work fast and build on our research of the bird and its feeding habits.  But, we also need you. We need people to help us and we need farmers to understand how much of an important role they can play in the future of this bird.

Seeing a turtle dove on that summer’s day last year was memorable for many reasons. Not least because I was overcome with a feeling of vulnerability. The natural world that continues to inspire us generation after generation is threatened constantly. I feel incredibly proud to work for an organization that is prepared to stand up and give nature a voice, and I’m even more proud that I get to be a part of Operation Turtle Dove, a mission with a real difference.

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Article in EDP on 12 May 2012