Turtle dove gets a political champion

Catherine Bearder MEP lends her support to protect the endangered turtle dove, which has suffered a 93% UK population decline since 1970.

The turtle dove now has its own political representative in Europe. Last week Catherine Bearder became an advocate for the endangered bird, the first MEP in England to lend her political support to protect threatened wildlife by becoming a “Species Champion.”

RSPB’s Thomas Lyon appoints Catherine Bearder as MEP Species Champion for turtle dove. Photo: Rachel Evans.
RSPB’s Thomas Lyon appoints Catherine Bearder as MEP Species Champion for turtle dove. Photo: Rachel Evans.

Once the sound of summer, the turtle dove was common across much of England but is now retreating into an ever shrinking patch of East Anglia and the South East of England. Since 1970 populations have declined by 93%. We could lose them from the UK altogether within the next 10 years, unless we act now to protect their habitat. Arriving at their English breeding grounds in late spring the turtle dove’s preferred habitat is uncropped arable field margins which provide seed to feed their young and scrub and hedgerows for nesting.

Martin Randall, RSPB Area Manager for Kent said: “The South East is so important for the turtle dove and we are delighted that Catherine Bearder MEP has agreed to support the turtle dove and become the first MEP Species Champion. Her support will help raise the profile of the plight of this amazing bird and help gain wider appreciation for and protect its habitat.”

Catherine Bearder MEP said: “I am incredibly proud to have been chosen as the turtle dove champion by the RSPB as part of their MEP Species Champion initiative. This scheme is a fantastic opportunity for the RSPB to work with policy makers and arm them with the information when sitting at the decision making table. I look forward to working with the campaign team and the site wardens who do an absolutely brilliant job at ensuring the turtle dove has a safe home on our shores. I will do all I can to ensure European legislation protects the turtle dove, which is severely endangered. I have already started by seeking assurances that the Birds and Habitats Directive will be protected and I will continue to look at other ways we can protect this beautiful bird right across the continent.”

The MEP Species Champion Initiative, launched last week by the RSPB, encourages Members of the European Parliament to become supporters for struggling species such as the turtle dove and champion their survival. The RSPB is part of Operation Turtle Dove – a project which aims to reverse the decline of this charismatic species – and will also be working with partner organisations and NGOs on non-avian species such as butterflies, beetles and plants.

Catherine Bearder visited an RSPB site to learn more about the species and ongoing work to increase feeding habitat through advice and farming initiatives, whilst researching the doves’ migration, wintering areas and breeding grounds.