Operation Turtle Dove

report by David Knight

You will, no doubt, have read of the outcome of Malta’s Spring Hunting Referendum where the country voted by a narrow majority to keep on killing. The rapidly declining Quail and European Turtle Dove will be legally shot this spring from 14th April as they migrate north. Despite being contrary to EU law the European Court of Justice granted Malta special permission to hunt the two quarry species in 2009 using the excuse that hunters did not have enough individual birds to shoot in autumn. Malta has consequently set a quota of 11,000 Turtle Doves and  5000 Quail.

Operation Turtle Dove, launched on 10th May 2012, is a partnership between R.S.P.B; Conservation Grade; Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England with the express aim of reversing the decline of one of England’s best loved farmland birds. As well as the work of the  above members, many other organisations have become involved ( see Operation Turtle Dove and Dove Step 2 accounts on line)

Those who attended the recent Wild about the Wensum event  at Pensthorpe would have seen  Operation Turtle Dove widely advertised. And now Pensthorpe Conservation Trust have contacted Ray Gribble to request a full survey of their site for records of any Turtle Doves.  A regular team of  members already do a weekly bird survey of the site and will now be asked to  note ,especially, any Turtle Dove sightings. Ray is, also, requesting that ALL members please report to him or David Gibbons any sightings in the Wensum Valley.

Looking at my records the last time I saw a Turtle Dove in my village was 24th July 2012. There had been regular sightings over the past ten years but none during last year or 2013. The last record on the Hoe Bird Walk  was on the 17th April 2011 while a regular 3/4  had been recorded each year over the previous decade.

There have been regular records in the Valley with 4’s and 5’s being seen together over the years but declined in numbers in more recent years and  in 2013 the Turtle Dove was not recorded at Sparham Hall Farm for the first time since Charles Sayer commenced his records emphasizing the dire plight of this charismatic bird.

Member Roy Lishman tells me that  about 20/25 years ago he regularly heard Turtle Doves within 1/4 mile of his garden in Mattishall. About 5 years ago they stopped arriving. So he  gave up looking for them for them, as he is sure many other enthusiasts did. However last year (2014) they returned, and with a pal of his he went walkabout to confirm their presence and sure enough  spotted the male and assumed the hen was sitting. So presumably his local habitat  suits  them and he remains optimistic for future years.

Let’s all hope 2015 is a purring good Turtle Dove year.  So please send those sightings to Ray!

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