It's increasingly felt like a lost year for conservation, but we have, where government restrictions have allowed, tried to maintain our essential activity including for some of our most threatened species.  Today, I am pleased to report good progress in restoring our fastest declining migratory programme both for here in the UK and also along their migration flyway.  But at the end of this blog, I also share some worrying news include a new opportunity for how you can help.

Here in the UK, through the Operation Turtle Dove partnership, we are helping improve the quality of their habitats in the breeding season: helping farmers, land managers, local communities and volunteer to look after their doves in their local areas, giving them good feeding and nesting area, aimed at producing more fledged chicks per pair per year.

This is going well, and many thanks to all those delivering for turtle doves on the ground – all those farmers, land managers, local communities and volunteers – we are seeing lots of encouraging signs this year.

Despite not being able to get out and do as much monitoring as we would have liked this spring and summer, we have had reports of good numbers of birds on many of our project sites, some that have not seen turtle doves for several years.  And just in the last few weeks, we have been getting reports of newly-fledged doves too, including birds using the feeding areas created for them - just what we hoped for.  

Outside the UK, we continue to work with partners along the migration flyway of ‘our’ doves, to put an end to unsustainable levels of hunting.  

Turtle doves have been hunted (legally) after breeding and during migration in countries like France, Spain and Portugal for a long time.  Hunting is not entirely negative, because in some places it comes with bespoke management of the land to favour the species.  But the science now clearly shows that the numbers that have been shot in recent years are not sustainable for a flyway population already greatly reduced by poor breeding success. 

As I wrote a couple of years ago, on behalf of BirdLife International, the RSPB led the development of an International Action Plan for turtle doves which brought together all the available evidence and led directly to the European Commission calling for a temporary complete hunting moratorium for turtle doves, until a proper sustainable management system is established.

Spain has the largest breeding population of turtle doves in Europe (41% of the total) but is also responsible for most shooting. We hear that the Spanish authorities have announced a reduction in the available hunting season this year, which should result in fewer birds being shot. This is the result of mounting pressure from the European Commission and our Spanish partner SEO/BirdLife that hunting should not be allowed in the current circumstances, because it may be in breach of the EU Birds Directive. A step in the right direction, but far from a complete moratorium yet. 

In France, the BirdLife Partner LPO has also been working hard to try to persuade the French government to fully recognise and accept the necessity of a hunting moratorium, as recommended by its own group of experts. Despite this advice, the French Ministry is proposing to authorise the hunting of 17,460 turtle doves in 2020. This is also significant reduction compared to previous years but still not the moratorium LPO, RSPB and other European Birdlife partners support. That is why LPO have asked us to help get their message across that in the current situation, where the turtle dove is globally threatened and continues to decline, the only acceptable quota for hunting the species in France in 2020 is zero. The RSPB will be expressing its opinion and submitting evidence to the French government and I would encourage those of you who want to take part, to add your own voice and write your own messages (in French if you can, in English if not, but always polite and concise please!) to the public consultation available here.

The LPO website gives the background behind their position and why they want your help:

This is an excellent opportunity to brush up on your French (or get the hang of freely available web translation services ).  Points you might want to make in a response to the consultation include:

  • The turtle dove populations in the UK and France are intimately linked – all UK breeding birds migrate through France – and in autumn most do so during the proposed French hunting season.
  • Ultimately the health of the UK turtle dove population relies on the – still much larger – French population being in a better state, and no longer declining. That will increase the number of birds crossing the channel (no obstacle whatsoever for a turtle dove) and recruiting into our own breeding population.
  • If we can help turtle doves in France, we help them here too.

I am optimistic that by addressing both the habitat quality on their breeding grounds, and by stopping unsustainable hunting along the flyway - all done through partnerships with others - we can make a big difference for the future of turtle doves, both in the UK, and right across their European breeding range.

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Image courtesy of Katherine Carey (rspb-images.com)

Anonymous
  • Some French vocabulary to borrow from for your consultation posts.....

  • Tout d´abord je vous remercie de n´avoir pas abandonné les efforts d´écologie dans votre gouvernement.

    Secondement je voudrais tirer la sonnette d´alarme sur la situation de la tourterelle des bois dont on vient d´annoncer l´autorisation de sa chasse à raison de 17 460 tourterelles dès la rentrée de septembre.

    Actuellement, la tourterelle des bois est globalement menacée et continue de décliner. Le seul quota acceptable de chasse de l'espèce en France en 2020 est nul.

    • Les populations de tourterelles au Royaume-Uni et en France sont intimement liées - tous les oiseaux nicheurs britanniques migrent à travers la France - et la plupart le font à l'automne pendant la saison de chasse proposée en France.

    • En fin de compte, la santé de la population britannique de tourterelles dépend du fait que la population française - encore beaucoup plus importante - soit en bonne santé et ne diminue plus. Cela augmentera le nombre d'oiseaux traversant La Manche, à leur tour recrutés pour la population reproductrice du Royaume Uni.

    • Si nous pouvons aider les tourterelles en France, nous les aidons au Royaume Uni aussi.