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Despite being mentioned in the Christmas song, the Twelve Days Of Christmas, Turtle doves are absent from the UK at this time of year as they overwinter in sub-saharan Africa.
Most news concerning this beautiful and iconic species is gloomy with the bird being labelled one of our fastest declining bird species. In Wiltshire we are lucky enough to still have some Turtle doves and it one of the species targeted by the South Wiltshire Farmland Bird Project.
Martin Down National Nature Reserve on the borders of Wiltshire and Dorset is a local stronghold for this bird and a small project has been running here for the last year to try and find out more about why the birds here are faring better than their neighbours. Additional foraging areas were also created by neighbouring farmers as lack of seed food is one of the reasons the birds are declining. With help from the South Wiltshire Farmland Bird Project, Natural England (NE) and volunteers a pilot study carried out a survey of breeding birds across the reserve last summer.
Volunteer Andy Davis gave an update, ‘The pilot study at Martin Down estimated that there were seven breeding pairs in 2014 and we know at least some breeding attempts were successful as the team ringed two fledglings. It was a very protracted breeding season and birds were still on site well into September. The data we collected currently suggests that the birds had selected the largest, most impenetrable plots of scrub for nesting and that they were distributed across the whole reserve. We can also say that we did not observe any birds feeding within the reserve and that they must forage elsewhere - hopefully the next stage of the project will establish where.”
Thanks to Robert Lloyd of NE, participating farmers and all the volunteers including Andy Davis, Danny Alder and Dr Simon Lane.