Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Turtle dove numbers plummet 98% to just 2,100 pairs, national survey shows

Just 2,100 pairs of turtle doves now breed in the UK, according to a survey (Ben Andrew/RSPB/PA)
Just 2,100 pairs of turtle doves now breed in the UK, according to a survey (Ben Andrew/RSPB/PA)

Just 2,100 pairs of turtle doves now breed in the UK, the first national survey of the highly threatened bird shows.

Numbers of the turtle dove – long considered a symbol of love – have fallen 98% since the 1970s, mainly due to loss of habitat in UK breeding grounds and unsustainable hunting as it migrates over Europe to and from Africa.

Research last year by volunteers, farmers, study groups, county bird clubs and other organisations, recording turtle doves across their UK range, shows there are now an estimated 2,100 pairs, down from 125,000 in 1970.

But wildlife charity the RSPB said there is hope for the species, with solutions now in place to tackle the threats it faces.

Adult perched on wooden bench in back garden, North Yorkshire
An adult turtle dove perched on a wooden bench in a back garden in North Yorkshire (Katherine Carey/RSPB/PA)

That includes Operation Turtle Dove – a partnership of conservation organisations driving efforts to restore and create habitat for the birds to breed in the UK, with advisers to help land managers create the scrub and tall hedges they need and provide them with extra seed food.

The RPSB said it is imperative that new agri-environmental schemes in England, which are replacing EU payments for farming after Brexit, continue to support farmers who implement wildlife-friendly measures on their land.

Turtle doves are also threatened by unsustainable hunting practices which saw an estimated million birds a year shot in south-west Europe until recently, including migratory birds passing between Europe and Africa.

But in 2021, for the first time, no hunting of turtle doves was permitted in France, Spain or Portugal.

Turtle doves, the only long-distance migratory dove species in Europe, are known for their “purring” call and the scalloped pattern on their wing feathers – as well as their appearance in the song The Twelve Days Of Christmas.

The species is now concentrated in south-eastern and eastern England as far north as Yorkshire, the survey shows.

Andrew Stanbury, conservation scientist with the RSPB, said: “In the ’70s, there were records of flocks of over 500 birds, and the UK population was estimated at 125,000 pairs.

“Although these results paint a stark picture with numbers, the way forward is clear and we stand a good chance of turning around the fortunes of this bird.

“We hope that the 2021 survey will represent the lowest population point.”

Phil Grice, principal specialist for ornithology at Government conservation agency Natural England, said: “The fact that no hunting is currently permitted on the western European flyway provides us with a huge window of opportunity to reverse the decline in arguably one of England’s most threatened bird species.

“Providing good nesting habitat, in the form of tall hedges and mature scrub, and abundant seed resources throughout the late spring and summer will be vital.”

He said both these needed elements could be delivered through a well-planned and delivered agri-environment plan.