Volunteers saving turtle doves

Guest blog by Caroline Spinks, Turtle Dove Survey Volunteer Co-ordinator

Part of Operation Turtle Dove’s remit is to carry out research in turtle dove breeding grounds/habitats, much of this research relies upon volunteer surveyors heading out in the early hours to look for turtle doves through the breeding season.

Caroline Spinks Turtle Dove Survey Volunteer Co-ordinator
Caroline Spinks Turtle Dove Survey Volunteer Co-ordinator

In Cambridgeshire, Essex, Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk and Sussex, the RSPB with the help of additional data from BTO, have identified turtle dove ‘hotspots’ and designated them Turtle Dove Friendly Zones (TDFZ). Partnerships have been developed with land managers in these areas, where advice is available on how to provide support to turtle doves whilst they are here in their breeding season.

Since we know that turtle doves are quite mobile across their breeding and feeding grounds it makes sense to be working at landscape scales. There are 29 TDFZ and more volunteers are needed to uncover breeding pairs in the zones and to assess if conservation measures put in place are working.

Volunteer surveyors are asked to visit a randomly selected 1km2 within a nearby TDFZ twice between May and July, in the early morning. They walk along a transect of the square counting turtle doves (obviously!), making assessments of suitable habitats, and recording other relevant farmland bird species, be they potential predators or other birds of conservation interest. Once the observations are returned to the office, another volunteer (me!) records them onto a map for the RSPB’s turtle dove conservation team and advisors to use.

Hearing a purring turtle dove always puts a smile on my face, and I am not the only one:

“I was watching a male turtle dove purring on wires and was already very happy to establish that a bird had returned to a territory occupied last year. This bird then emerged from inside a hawthorn and sat in full view in perfect nesting habitat, before joining its mate on the wires. Finding this breeding pair along with two others while surveying nearby transects was a fantastic reward for early mornings and wet feet!” Chris Poole, Volunteer Turtle Dove Surveyor

This year with the fantastic help and support from volunteers 71 turtle dove surveys were carried out across the South East and the East of England. Why not get involved and you too could feel the same exhilaration as Chris, but hopefully not the wet feet! If you are interested in carrying out a survey next year please contact me at caroline.spinks@rspb.org.uk to find out if you live near a TDFZ in the East of England or Caroline French at caroline.french@rspb.org.uk for the South East.