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26th December 2022

12 days of Christmas: Only two turtle doves left

Here we discuss the 2nd item in ’12 Days of Christmas’, the falling numbers of turtle doves in the UK and conservation efforts underway to reverse this decline
12 days of Christmas: Only two turtle doves left
Photo: Bruno Oliveira @ Unsplash

Turtle doves will not be a gift given by lovers this Christmas, as turtle dove numbers have plummeted by 98% in the UK, making them the fastest-declining species in the UK. These long-distance migratory doves usually spend the winter in sub-Saharan West Africa, then migrate to Europe for breeding. However, the loss of breeding grounds and unsustainable hunting practices have led to them becoming a highly-threatened species. A national survey recorded approximately 2,100 pairs of turtle doves in the UK in 2021, a steep decline from 125,000 in 1970.

Save the turtle doves

Conservation organisations have launched operations to combat these dwindling numbers and increase breeding. Operation Turtle Dove launched in 2012 by the RSPB aims to restore and create habitats for these birds to breed in the UK. This involves a collaboration between farmers, communities and volunteers to provide nesting and feeding habitats for turtle doves.

International efforts are also taking place to help restore the turtle dove numbers, with turtle dove hunting being banned in France, Spain and Portugal in 2021. Previously, it has been estimated that a million birds are shot each year in southwest Europe.

Save the rest too

However, turtle doves aren’t the only species in danger. Overall, there has been a decline of 13% in the average abundance of wildlife in the UK since the 1970s, with the response to this loss of natural wealth being ineffective and inadequate.

With only 0.022% of the country’s GDP spent on biodiversity funding, more needs to be done or it will not only be these birds of love that are declining.

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