Here is the final part of Jonny Rankin’s blog about the epic Dove Step 2 endurance challenge to raise funds for Operation Turtle Dove and increase awareness of the Turtle Dove’s plight. Beware, it makes excruciating reading!
The fatigue from the cycle leg had an incredible effect upon the leg muscles of Stu and myself and without realising, my cycling shoes had degraded both little toes, which were now seriously aggravated in the confines of walking boots. Just 15 miles into the first day both Stu and I both had blisters. We stopped to dress them and to avoid further degradation as best as we could but just a couple of miles later Stu was in very visible pain. After sharing the first two legs with Stu it was crushing to have to say goodbye to him on the first walking day. Having so capably completed the first two legs Rob and I fully respected Stu’s decision to leave the walking leg and could see it was the right decision for him.
On the first walking day Rob and I covered marathon distance, on the second we covered 30 miles! Now ten days into the overall journey the huge daily output was familiar, but the abrasive footfall largely on tarmac, added a new dimension; suffering! In addition sandy soils and grit from the road meant one small grain lodged between the toes would easily form a blister in the most unlikely place. Having bandaged my prone little toes on the first day I had saved the left one from further issue. The right however, was too far gone and ultimately blistered and swelled to the point of popping. This popping came with immediate relief as the swelling was becoming tight and painful, but this soon gave way to grating pain.
Across the first two walking days I suffered whilst my body tried to adapt to the new demands made of it; then, I degraded heavily owing to the cumulative time spent walking! At it’s worst my fatigue would see me almost nod-off whilst walking, hallucinate and on one occasion almost collapse before Rob enforced a break. Ultimately I wouldn’t have finished had I not been able to follow Rob’s lead and revert to him for navigation.
On the penultimate day we glimpsed the Pyrenees and stayed overnight with this natural border between France and Spain on the skyline and the waves of the Atlantic outside our window. We had already surpassed our primary objective of ‘a 700 mile journey for Turtle Doves’ and spent the next day pushing as close to the Spanish border as possible. This was to be Bayonne, where at 16:40 on May 1st we collapsed into the railway station.
Across over 730 miles of endurance we encountered just 13 Turtle Doves! Seven of these were seen on the same day and it took until day seven – half way through the expedition – to see our first. Further to this we spent an average of 8.8 hours per day outside to encounter these 13 birds. With a 74% decline since 1980, at European level it is clear why we didn’t see as many Turtle Doves as we’d hoped.
This leads me on to why as a team we are so dedicated to the Dove Step campaign. We don’t own land to manage favourably for Turtle Doves, we cannot individually fund research and we don’t have the hard cash to make significant donations to Operation Turtle Dove. What we do have is our bodies, annual leave and an unwavering determination towards fundraising goals.
Our aim across each Dove Step journey is of course to complete the endurance task set. Thereafter we have the twofold objective of raising funds and awareness for Turtle Doves. Raising awareness, ensuring Turtle Doves are one of the many topics shouted about in the conservation melee, is vital and we are proud to be a constant noise for Turtle Doves. Aside from merit in their own right, they are indicative of our ailing farmland bird populations and also migratory birds using the Afro-European flyway.
We don’t feel we could have executed this year’s journey any better and we will continue to spread the Dove Step message giving talks at the following events:
▪ August 22nd, 09:30 Birdfair, Lecture Marquee 3.
▪ October 28th, 20:30 Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown on Spey – after dinner talk to the Bird Watching Wildlife Club (BWWC).
▪ November 5th, 19:30 Holiday Inn, Ipswich – short talk to the Suffolk Ornithological Group (SOG).