What are we doing to save turtle doves?

Our work to help Turtle Doves has science at its heart. When we first started, our focus was on identifying why Turtle Doves were declining and identifying ways to best help these birds. We have now reached the stage of rolling out, at scale, measures that we know will benefit Turtle Doves.

We have very good scientific evidence showing that there are two key issues to address to save Turtle Doves in the UK. Firstly, we must provide them with better quality breeding habitats, particularly feeding opportunities, so that they can produce more chicks each year. Secondly, we must see an end to unsustainable levels of hunting along their flyway in south-west Europe.

Improving breeding habitats
We’re working with farmers, other land managers, communities and other groups to help them create suitable habitat for Turtle Doves. We have a team of advisors who provide bespoke advice on how to create the feeding, nesting and drinking habitats that the birds need.

In 2023, our Operation Turtle Dove team worked with 370 farmers and land managers to provide an amazing 230 hectares of suitable feeding habitat. If you’re in eastern or south-east England and would like to create habitat for Turtle Doves on land you manage then please get in touch with your local advisor.

Tackling unsustainable hunting
All Turtle Doves breeding in western Europe, including the UK, migrate south through three countries where the species used to be legally hunted in large numbers: France, Spain and Portugal. Up to 2018, around one million Turtle Doves were legally hunted every autumn in just these three. Research clearly showed this was unsustainable and was preventing the recovery of the entire Western European breeding population.

The publication of an International Species Action Plan for the Turtle Dove in 2018, a huge cross-border project involving experts from fifty states within the Turtle Dove’s range, was a major milestone. It recognised the impacts of hunting and drove international conservation efforts, to end unsustainable levels of Turtle Dove hunting in Europe. The result was a sustainable management system, now adopted by the European Commission. This led directly to a halt in Turtle Dove hunting in France, Spain and Portugal in 2021, 2022, and 2023 and incredibly has effectively already saved the lives of three million Turtle Doves! At least one more year of hunting ban across these countries in 2024 is anticipated to be requested by the European Commission. Hunting at any level will only be allowed to resume when there is significant evidence of population recovery.

This should mean that the hunting of Turtle Doves in Western Europe never reaches unsustainable levels again. This much needed breathing space means we need to push now to create the breeding season habitats that the birds so desperately need when they fly to the UK in spring.

Delivering for Turtle Doves
In order to develop effective conservation action on the ground for Turtle Doves in the UK, it was essential that the causes of declines were identified using sound science. The emerging results of research in turn informed the development of practical conservation actions that were subsequently trialled. Rigorous monitoring of these trials has ensured that only successful components have been rolled out at the scale needed to reverse the population decline of the Turtle Doves.

Hope for the future
Recovery from such a massive decline is never quick and can take decades. The great advantage that we have with Turtle Doves is that we know what their key problems are, we know what needs to be done to fix them, and we know that we’re well on the right track to doing so. By being a little patient, listening to the science, and sticking to the plan of priority actions; Turtle Doves are a conservation fight that is definitely winnable.