Flyway scale conservation – from Suffolk to Senegal

Turtle Doves spend around one third of the year on their breeding grounds in Europe. The rest of their year is spent on migration or on their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan West Africa.

There are two key actions that must be taken if we are to help the UK’s Turtle Dove population to recover. They are: 1) delivering high quality breeding season habitats here in the UK; 2) ensuring no return to unsustainable levels of hunting on their southward autumn migration across France, Spain and Portugal. To help Turtle Doves all along their migratory route, it is essential we work alongside conservation partners in Europe and Africa.

The long-term aim of Operation Turtle Dove is to deliver conservation action for Turtle Doves to allow their UK-breeding population to recover. Read on to discover more about how we are delivering this much-needed conservation action in the UK and further afield.

Providing good quality breeding season habitat

We have good evidence that a major driver of Turtle Dove population decline in the UK has been a lack of suitable seed food, leading to reduced productivity (the number of chicks produced).

To address this issue, Operation Turtle Dove is working with farmers and other land managers to help create suitable breeding season habitats with a focus on ensuring good availability of food plants for the birds.

Turtle Doves feed almost exclusively on seeds, so by providing a plentiful supply of seed-rich habitats close to suitable nesting and drinking habitats we are creating ideal conditions for Turtle Doves across their range in south-east and eastern England.

Photo: Turtle Dove foraging for seeds on a patch of sparsely vegetated ground. Credit: Nicole Khan (

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European Turtle Dove Action Plan

Turtle Doves cross many borders in the space of their annual migrations. It is important that organisations along their migratory route work together to secure a bright future for the species. A key catalyst for such collaboration came in the form of an EU LIFE+ funded project to develop an International Species Action Plan for the Turtle Dove. The project began in 2015 and after three years of hard work, collaboration and cooperation, a flyway-scale plan to conserve this iconic species was officially launched in May 2018.

Photo: Ian Fisher (RSPB) at the launch of the Turtle Dove Species Action Plan in May 2018. Credit: RSPB.


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Ensuring safe passage for Turtle Doves on migration

Turtle Doves spend two thirds of their time outside the UK. We’re working with partners along the Turtle Dove’s migratory route and over the last few years there has been some fantastic progress in ensuring no return to unsustainable levels of hunting on the Turtle Dove’s southward autumn migration in France, Spain and Portugal.

Photo: Turtle Dove in flight. Credit: Paul Tomlinson.

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Research on the Turtle Dove migratory route & wintering grounds

RSPB Conservation Scientists have been carrying out research to understand more about the migratory routes UK-breeding Turtle Doves make as well as the habitats that the birds use on their wintering grounds in West Africa. Although this work has concluded that suitable wintering habitats are not likely a current limiting factor for Turtle Doves, this could change in future. The improved understanding of Turtle Dove ecology and habitat use that this science has delivered is valuable investment to help us monitor and evaluate the impacts of any future land-use change in West Africa on these migratory birds.

Photo: Turtle Dove research on the wintering grounds. © Chris Orsman.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Operation Turtle Dove is working with hundreds of people – farmers, land managers, communities and a whole host of volunteers – to create the right habitat conditions to allow Turtle Doves to thrive once more.

We’ve set out some frequently asked questions and their answers to help shed some light on Turtle Doves, how they’re faring and how we are helping them.

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