Monday, 2 July 2007

Turtle Dove numbers fall by almost two-thirds in 12 years

A report published today reveals that the number of the Turtle Doves in Britain has plummeted by 61 per cent in just 12 years.

The Breeding Bird Survey – a partnership between the BTO, RSPB and JNCC – has shown that the Turtle Dove has disappeared from many parts of England, including the north and the south-west, and has also become increasingly hard to find in its arable stronghold of East Anglia.

Turtle Dove is one of many long-distance migrants whose numbers returning to Britain each spring are decreasing. It is believed that the decline could be linked to factors on migration – such as illegal hunting around the Mediterranean – or to conditions on African wintering grounds. Equally, changes in agricultural practice, leading to a reduction in the quantity of weed seeds – a principal food source – have been cited for the decline.

However, the population of another farmland bird has improved in the last 12 years, with Reed Bunting increasing by 39 per cent since 1994 – a marked turnaround from the situation 30 years ago, when a steep decline began which saw its numbers more than halve in the decade up to the mid 1980s.

There are hopes that the relatively recent increase in the extent of funding available to farmers for wildlife-friendly agriculture may have benefited Reed Buntings. A principal cause for the species’ decline has been the lack of weed seeds in fields – a principal food source for many farmland birds.

Encouraged by the modest rise in the UK population, the RSPB is hoping that farmers attending today’s Royal Show will be looking at wildlife-friendly farming schemes as a way of ensuring a more secure future for farmland birds and providing an additional source of farm income.