For many people, the turtle dove is a bird associated with Christmas. It’s a firm feature in our Christmas carols, decorations and literature, but did you know that these beautiful and iconic doves are far away from our shores during the festive season?

Turtle doves are the UK’s only migratory dove, spending winters in Sub-Saharan Africa and returning in spring to breed in England. Residents of counties like Kent, Sussex, Essex Norfolk and Suffolk might be lucky enough to spot these small doves feeding or perched on telegraph wires on hot summer days, but the national picture is sadly a story of serious decline.

The turtle dove population has plummeted by over 95% since 1995, meaning that 25 years ago, you’d have been able to see twenty turtle doves for every one you see now.

In fact, the new State of UK Birds report revealed last week that turtle dove numbers have shown the largest decline of any bird species monitored in England.

Operation Turtle Dove; a partnership of the RSPB, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, Natural England and Fair to Nature, has been working to identify and address the issues faced by turtle doves on UK soil, collaborating with networks of farmers, landowners and communities to help create better breeding and feeding habitat here in the UK, but turtle doves need your help too.

Photo: Two turtle doves perch on a bench. Credit: Katherine Carey

Here are four simple ways you can help us to help them in 2021;

Add a date with a dove to your diary –

Turtle doves start to return to England in late April, often around St George’s Day. This year, the RSPB, rare Birds Breeding Panel, BTO and Natural England are asking keen eyed wildlife watchers to help survey the species to give us a clearer picture of our national population. The survey will take place between mid-May and early August across Southern and Eastern England, helping conservationists to identify any previously unrecorded breeding sites. You can help by submitting your own turtle dove sightings via Birdtrack - https://app.bto.org/birdtrack

Create habitat in Turtle Dove Friendly zones –

Whether you have a back garden, community green space or commercial land operation, creating suitable habitat of any size can be invaluable in our turtle dove friendly zones. These are places where turtle doves are still breeding in small pockets and our ambition is to create a landscape scale mosaic of good feeding, breeding and drinking habitat, so new generations can branch out across our countryside and fill it once again. If you live Southern or Eastern England and have a patch of land you can manage for wildlife, visit our Operation Turtle Dove website to find out more.

Photo: a turtle dove stands on a pavement. Credit: Ben Andrew

Give the gift of a donation –

Conservation work is underpinned by love, dedication and volunteer efforts, but we need financial support too. A small donation can go a long way in helping to create habitat or providing supplementary seed and making a donation to help protect this species is a great, sustainable gift for any wildlife lover. Visit this link to find out more.

Talk to people about their plight –

Many people have no idea that farmland birds like the turtle dove are struggling. Finances will be stretched for a lot of people this winter so donating might not be an option for you, but we can all play our part in helping conservation efforts by talking to others about the challenges our wild birds face. Show the turtle dove some love this season by encouraging others to read about their declines and take action. You can help us spread the word throughout the year by following Operation Turtle Dove on twitter too.

Share this blog, mention them in conversation, encourage your community to think about organising fundraising events or volunteering; it can all make a difference!

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