Each year a million Turtle Doves are illegally hunted on migration.  RSPB’s Senior Farmland Conservation Officer Niki Williamson explains the extent of the problem and how you can help.

A perilous journey and an Inglorious race

Niki Williamson

Senior Farmland Conservation Officer, Niki Williamson

Close encounters with bushfires, pursuits by angry men with machetes, vehicle-destroying roads, breath-taking birding.  This time last year, at the end of a perilous and unforgettable trip to The Gambia with #TeamPeanut, Conservation Grade’s Simon Tonkin and I were preparing to return home.

Our mission – to design a protocol for peanut-growers to produce Fair to Nature peanuts to supply bird food for RSPB and others – was well on the way to success.  Our work would help save Turtle Doves by providing habitat in their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.

Much as air travel terrifies both of us, by comparison to recent days we felt rather safe and comfortable as we sat back on the plane with a beer and a complimentary bag of pretzels.

The Turtle Doves we saw on our trip were also preparing to return home.  But unlike us, their perilous adventure was just beginning, and many would not survive the journey.

As if completing a 3,000 km journey, including crossing the Sahara, isn’t enough, these birds must then run the gauntlet of illegal hunting in the Mediterranean countries where they desperately need to rest and refuel.

Injured Turtle Dove - Photo - HOS

An injured Turtle Dove in Greece. Photo credit: Hellenic Ornithological Society

Across Mediterranean countries like Greece, Cyprus and Malta, it is estimated a million Turtle Doves are slaughtered as they try to make their way home to their northern European breeding grounds.  Most are shot for sport or food, often after being lured to a watering hole by the desperate calls of a caged decoy bird.

Although the Turtle Dove’s drastic decline is strongly linked to changing agricultural practices in its breeding grounds, hunting in Mediterranean countries puts added pressure on a struggling population and represents what could be the final nail in the Turtle Dove’s coffin.

And that is why I’m writing here!  This Easter, Simon and I will reunite for another perilous adventure to save Turtle Doves, and we need your support! 

Alongside our friends and colleagues Fran Vargas (Conservation Manager for Greek Birdlife partner Hellenic Ornithological Society) and Pete Alfrey (Beddington Farmlands Nature Reserve), we will be competing in ‘Champions of the Flyway’, an annual birding race held in Israel, to raise money to stop illegal hunting of birds in the Mediterranean.

Competing under the team name The Inglorious Bustards, we will have 24 hours to spot as many species as possible, while aiming to raise over £3000 for projects to stop illegal hunting of birds.

This year one of the projects supported by the event will be an awareness campaign in several prime tourist destinations in Greece, where an estimated 130,000 Turtle doves are shot each year.  This will make it more difficult for hunters to go undetected and give more Turtle doves safe passage home.

We’ll need lots of Twitter support to cheer us on while we compete against teams from across the world! Follow us (we’re @Otis_inglorius) and the event (@flywaychampions, #COTF2016) for live race day shenanigans on 29 March, and help us spread the word about the event and the wildlife crime we are fighting to end.

But most importantly we need help to raise money and protect the miracle of migration.

Please visit the Champions of the Flyway website to learn more about the event, and then show your love for Turtle doves by visiting the Inglorious Bustards’ team page where you can donate to our Just Giving site. Birds have no choice but to make their perilous journey every year.  We may not be able to give them complimentary pretzels, but it is up to us to help ensure them safe passage home, for everyone to enjoy.

Champions of the Flyway - BirdLife

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