With the end of the summer holidays in sight it’s perhaps time for a bit of reflection on how the great British summer has panned out. I hope that for many, if not all of you, the warm sunny weather gave you the impetuous to get out and about in the local countryside and once there that you got to see or hear one of our most striking summer migrants – the turtle dove.

Whilst turtle dove numbers are in freefall, Essex, thankfully, remains one of their strongholds. With 12% (figures are derived from data from BTO/BirdWatchIreland/SOC Bird Atlas 2007–11) of the UK turtle dove population reported from the county, efforts here are essential to secure their future.

One of the Operation Turtle Dove project aims is to establish feeding habitat in the bird’s core range. So we’ve been engaging with farmers and landowners in these areas to create habitat targeted at turtle doves.

On one farm in Essex, an area the size of almost three football pitches is being turned into turtle dove feeding habitat. Rebecca, who promotes several conservation activities on her family farm had thought that the birds, once commonly seen on the farm were no longer making it back there. Thankfully though, it seems the birds are still holding on. Don, who has worked on the farm for 25 years, reported that he had had a turtle dove purring from the top of a dead tree in a quiet area of the farm “we used to regularly see several turtle doves here, perhaps up to a dozen. They used to fly between the grain barns feeding on the spilt grain. In the past few years I’ve noticed a real drop in numbers and over the past four-five years we’ve only had one pair”. Don remembers seeing turtle doves regularly as a child and hopes that next year, his grandson who has learnt to recognise their purring call will also get to see one. 

Don (third from left) and Rebecca (fifth from left) with the countryfile team when they came to film there in June.

Rebecca is turning this area into turtle dove feeding habitat by planting a specific seed mix. Turtle doves can sometimes be seen perching on the old poly tunnel supports on the left of the picture and the large, dense hedgerow surrounding the field provides brilliant nesting habitat for them- “ We are committed to establishing habitats to encourage wildlife back on to the farm and are really excited to be part of Operation Turtle Dove”.

From the research and monitoring also going on in Essex, early indications suggest that turtle doves have had a pretty good year, with some of our monitored birds managing three nesting attempts. 

By now, most turtle doves will have finished breeding and be preparing for the long flight back to West Africa. Whilst you’ll no longer be able to hear their purr, look out for the last glimpses of them feeding up before they leave.  

Samantha Lee - Turtle Dove Conservation Advisor