Last night’s episode of The One Show (22.11.2016) on BBC One featured some wonderful footage of Turtle doves both here in the UK and in their African wintering grounds, as John Mallord from the RSPB’s Science team talked to Richard Taylor-Jones about the importance of Operation Turtle Dove, the partnership project that is trying to stop this increasingly rare species from disappearing from the UK altogether. Although Turtle doves remain rare in the UK there are some success stories that give us hope, like Glebe Farm in Norfolk that featured in the film. With assistance from Operation Turtle Dove advisers, nesting and foraging habitats have been created and managed for these birds and the farm has seen numbers increase from zero to over 25 in just 4 years! For a limited period you can watch the clip again here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04hdm96.
Operation Turtle Dove featured on The One Show on 22nd November 2016. Image: BBC website
Conservation Grade is one of the partners in Operation Turtle Dove. We are working with our farmer members in the Turtle dove hotspot areas of the Eastern Counties to establish more habitats suited to this species, so they have have somewhere to breed and raise their young when they return to the UK in the Spring. We are also working with the Fair to Nature accredited brand, Steve’s Leaves, whose farm in Portugal provides a ‘service station’ for Turtle doves on their long migration.
A Turtle dove on the Steve’s Leaves farm in Portugal. Image: Brin Hughes/CG
Today’s publication of the latest State of Nature Report shows that, although there are a few good news stories to celebrate, the overall picture is not a good one. 56% of UK species are in decline and of the 8,000 UK species assessed, one in ten is threatened with extinction. The report states that one of the most important factors influencing these declines is farming practices. As Mark Eaton, lead author of the report, comments, this is not deliberate but is a by-product of changes in farming practices in the move towards greater efficiency.
But this needn’t be an either/or situation. Most farmers want to see nature returning to their land, while making a living growing good quality food to feed a burgeoning population. Fair to Nature farming enables farmers to satisfy all of these aims. We work with our farmers to help buck the trend of declines in farmland wildlife and our scheme is judged by the RSPB as the best nature-friendly on-farm accreditation scheme in the UK.
All Fair to Nature farms are required to create and manage a suite of wildlife habitats providing homes and foraging areas for wildlife throughout the year. Evidence shows that these habitats halt the decline in many farmland species. These nature-friendly practices become part of the farming operation, with the farms providing ingredients to Fair to Nature brands that people can buy.
Bird 161004 is waiting to follow in the slip stream of Titan, the first turtle dove to be tracked from his breeding grounds in the UK to his wintering grounds in Africa and back, and needs a name! 161004 is one of 6 newly satellite tagged turtle doves, which were fitted with light weight backpack trackers in Eastern England this summer. The team at Operation Turtle Dove have whittled the hundreds of possible names, suggested over the weekend by supporters of the project, down to the top three and now we need to pick a winner! By the way, Bird 161004 is male.
Operation Turtle Dove renews appeal for help to save species in light of evidence of turtle doves’ continuing decline
In light of the latest report (2015) on the findings of the annual UK Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), Operation Turtle Dove, of which Conservation Grade is a partner, has renewed calls for farmers, landowners and nature-lovers to join the fight to save the iconic turtle doves from extinction in the UK. The 2015 BBS Report, published last week, contained the news that turtle doves, whose numbers had been known to have fallen dramatically by 97 per cent since the 1970s, have been continuing in the same vein in more recent decades, declining by 93 per cent since 1994.
This news follows the addition last year of the European turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) to the global Red List of threatened species for the first time, in recognition of the global extinction threat this once common bird now faces.
Chrissie Kelley, of Operation Turtle Dove partner Pensthorpe Conservation Trust: “These findings throw a spotlight on the urgent need for immediate action to address the causes of turtle dove decline if we hope to prevent their extinction as a breeding bird in this country in our lifetimes. Significant progress has been made in the last few years towards understanding why turtle dove numbers are falling so fast, now the challenge is to roll out effective solutions fast enough to turn things around before it’s too late.”
Scientists investigating the reasons for the turtle dove’s decline in the UK have found that food availability, or rather lack of it, in the countryside is likely to be the primary factor. Turtle doves are migratory birds that come to the UK in the summer to breed. When they get here they rely on the being an abundance of seeds from arable plants for them to feed on so they can get into breeding condition. Evidence points to the fact that the loss of their preferred food plants from the countryside as a result of agricultural intensification and changes in farming practices leaves the birds struggling to find food and this has ultimately resulted in a halving of the number of breeding attempts turtle doves are able to make each year before they have to leave on the migration back to Africa, where they spend the winter.
Chrissie Kelley: “As as a migratory species, turtle doves spend less than half the year here in Britain, but because this is where they nest, lay eggs, and rear young, what happens to them here has a huge impact on their population. While they also face threats and pressures on migration and in their wintering grounds, for example from hunting and habitat loss, at the end of the day if they are not able to rear enough chicks when they get to the UK, their numbers will continue to fall.”
Farmers and landowners taking up the turtle dove’s cause
The East of England is home to more than half of the UK’s remaining breeding turtle doves, and farmers and landowners in the region are on the front line in efforts to save them by creating feeding habitat for the birds and returning their food plants to the arable landscape.
Robert Hambidge, who farms in the Upper Wensum Valley in Norfolk, is mortified at the current plight of the turtle dove: “Turtle doves are a sound of summer but this steep decline is now leading us to a sound of silence. There is a feeling of urgency for those of us who are trying to safeguard the future of this stunning and gentle farmland species. On my farm turtle doves have been visiting for each and every season except this year, I can only hope and work with other farmers within the Upper Wensum to ensure we do all we can to save turtle doves.”
Samantha Lee, Operation Turtle Dove and RSPB farm conservation adviser: “Farmers in the East of England are already doing amazing work creating feeding habitat for turtle doves on their land, but turtle doves desperately need more farmers to come to their aid.
“Thanks to the Countryside Stewardship grants available to farmers for providing habitat for wildlife, helping turtle doves doesn’t mean having to take a financial hit by losing crop production capacity, but many farmers are going above and beyond the requirements of the Countryside Stewardship schemes, which is fantastic.”
As part of Operation Turtle Dove, RSPB turtle dove conservation advisers are able to support farmers in turtle dove hotspots in the East and South-East of England by providing free habitat management advice and assisting with Countryside Stewardship applications. Contact Samantha Lee, firstname.lastname@example.org.
What can the rest of us do?
Chrissie Kelley: “There are still things you can do to help turtle doves if you are one the majority of people who don’t have a farm, whether it’s in your garden, by supporting wildlife-friendly farmers through your shopping choices, or donating directly to the work of Operation Turtle Dove.”
Report a turtle dove sighting– Operation Turtle Dove uses turtle dove sightings submitted by the public to help target conservation activities at the locations where they will have the biggest positive impact.
Shop for turtle doves– Look out for ‘Fair to Nature’ products when you go shopping. Brands with the Fair to Nature logo source their ingredients from farms that actively manage at least 10 per cent of their farmland for the benefit of wildlife, including turtle doves.
Help turtle doves in your garden– If you have a country garden near arable farmland, you can help turtle doves by letting hedges and scrubby areas grow as tall, wide and bushy as possible, creating potential nesting habitat, and by planting fumitory, black medick, red and white clover, common vetch, and birds foot trefoil, as sources of seeds that the birds eat.
Support Operation Turtle Dove– By donating to Operation Turtle Dove, can help fund vital conservation efforts to make sure that turtle doves remain a feature of the British countryside in summer.
Morrell’s is our newest Fair to Nature licensee, producing high-welfare beef on the Yorkshire Wolds. The wildlife on the farm is very important to farmer, Richard Morrell. The following post originally appeared on the Morrell’s website and has been reproduced with the kind permission of Richard Morrell.
Towthorpe Manor Farm is a 243 hectare arable and chalk dale farm in the Yorkshire Wolds. Richard Morrell manages the family farm growing winter wheat, winter barley, oil seed rape and winter oats sold to Jordans. Spring beans are the only spring crop sown at present so skylark plots are put into winter wheat to enhance the skylark population on the farm.
Richard has recently signed up for the Conservation Grade scheme as the farm has an excellent HLS agreement with a range of in field options to support the farmland birds which include tree sparrows, grey partridge, yellow wagtails, skylarks, yellowhammers and barn owls. It is hoped that corn buntings will soon be added to the list. Options include skylark plots, 2 hectares of wild bird seed mixes, 6 hectares of nectar mix, 4.7 hectares of floristically enhanced margins and 1.65 hectares of arable reversion to link up important habitats. Over wintered stubbles provide extra food and cover on this exposed Wolds farm.
All of the hedgerows are in ELS enhanced management. Low input grassland and ELS field corners help to support the barn owls. There is also a healthy population of hares and roe deer. Nest boxes for tree sparrows and barn owls around the farm will provide safe nesting opportunities.
An additional 5 hectares of seed and insect rich mix including triticale, mustard and phacelia is sown for the low profile shoot.
Two chalk dales are included in the HLS agreement due to their important range of wild flowers including clustered bell flower, rock rose, thyme and ladies bedstraw. Grazing management of the dales is important to enhance the floristic interest for butterflies which include marbled whites so Richard has recently set up herds of both Highland and Belted Galloways to deal with the Tor Grass which is in danger of smothering the wild flowers. In winter the cattle are fed on the bales removed from the nectar mix and floristically enhanced margins. A small flock of breeding ewes is also used to manage the grazing.
Care for the environment is a key part of all areas of farm management. Minimum tillage techniques are used where possible to reduce costs and carbon impact. A move to liquid fertiliser has been made this year to get a definitive cut off between arable crops and prevent contamination of the important habitats. Variable application of nitrogen fertilisers using real time scanning of the crop will be used next spring to ensure that this carbon costly product is used as efficiently as possible. GPS yield maps are created and analysed to monitor response to inputs. Pest thresholds are used to avoid spraying insecticides when possible and where there is a choice the least harmful products are selected. Investment in a weed wiper allows targeted application of herbicides in grassland areas.
“Integrating modern efficient and profitable farming with conservation is where the future is, we can produce food and look after wildlife efficiently” says Richard “I derive a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from seeing the flora and fauna flourishing on the farm. The HLS income is guaranteed which in a volatile commodity market is an important consideration for managing the business”.
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.
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!
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.
Birds are without doubt among the most fascinating and exciting groups of inhabitants in our world. One of the many reasons is because they transverse our planet through migrations, moving on mass or individually and yet sometimes, rarely, it can go a little wrong, or actually is it by design?
Birds have conquered every corner of the globe and their ability to fly long distances has meant they can be encountered on every continent with a bewildering choice of variety on design. So you see, these birds that get ‘lost’ aren’t necessarily lost at all but migration evolution and a new wave of colonisation in action. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that some birds get lost on purpose, they are the few that are migratory pioneers searching out new lands and new areas to occupy. Of course that isn’t a conscious decision, just something handed down to a select few by process of species development/evolution. So when you wonder why people chase rare birds to add to their list across the country you might just want to join them to see and attempt to understand these migratory pioneers (the birds not the watchers!).
I went on my own pilgrimage to a Fair to Nature farm in Norfolk, to pay homage to a special migratory pioneer, with a good chance of waiting hours for a glimpse. Then almost immediately upon arrival, the most glorious of images floated into my binocular view – a stomping PALLID HARRIER!!! As it twisted back and forth over the farmland bird flocks and harassed the Woodpigeons, it gave the best aerial display beating anything any mechanised air show could orchestrate.
As this special show came to an end there was lots of looking at each other in utter disbelief and then, after the adrenalin subsided, some admiration of a farmland bird flock and the habitats that Edward Cross, the farmer, supplies as part of being a great Fair to Nature farmer.
Sacrificial crops in plots at the end of several fields, fallows and stubbles provided Linnets, Tree Sparrows and Bramblings with a seed buffet that was no doubt most welcome. It is a mark of the times but seeing Tree Sparrow in Norfolk is becoming increasingly difficult, yet Edward puts in some fantastic work to encourage this bird. Nest boxes, seed food from specifically managed sacrificial plots of cereals, managed insect rich plots of nectar producing flowers and a nice pond for aquatic insects to feed hungry young Tree Sparrows. As one of the amassed birders commented, “Every farm should be like this”.
Speaking with Edward, he said, “This is the second year I’ve been involved with Fair to Nature. The scheme supports me managing specific habitats for wildlife, which has been great for Linnets, Tree Sparrows, Yellowhammer and Skylark, and it enables us to manage our rotations to help nesting Lapwing. This, along with work funded by Natural England’s stewardship schemes, means the farm has some good flocks of farmland birds, which in turn attract birds of prey like this rare Pallid Harrier, and regulars such as Kestrel, Peregrine, Merlin and Hen Harrier”.
While I was about to leave, the Pallid Harrier decided to whizz overhead and land right next to me by the road! WOW!!! So I duly admired it and took this video to mark the occasion! You can also hear the ornithological paparazzi camera shutters and awe!
Pallid Harriers aren’t just a rare occurrence here. The population is in rather terminal decline due to agricultural changes throughout the breeding areas in Eastern Europe and Russia making the species, evaluated by IUCN as near threatened. The European breeding population is vanishingly small with only 310 pairs estimated, although the populations in its Asiatic strongholds are thought to be more stable.
This young Pallid Harrier should have been wintering sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka or Burma, yet here it was jetting around some Fair to Nature fields in Norfolk! To lament the tragic decline seen in this species it was last recorded breeding in Bulgaria in 1952 where it had been the commonest Harrier species to be encountered there.
Fair to Nature are working with Bulgarian sunflower seed producers to be Fair to Nature and whilst it maybe too late for the Pallid Harrier, lots of other species are set to benefit there. Edward also grows crops such as millet for your bird food so by buying Fair to Nature bird food from the RSPB, Honeyfields and Chapelwood you are helping Edward, the Bulgarian producers and others to be Fair to Nature!
BirdLife International (2004) Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, UK. BirdLife International. (Birdlife series No. 12)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 2. New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona
New research has confirmed that Fair to Nature farms support significantly more pollinating insects than conventional farms. During summer 2015 Sophie Potter, working at the University of East Anglia, observed hoverflies on 10 Fair to Naturefarms across East Anglia and counted over 70% more insects in the field margins compared with 10 similar farms where conventional farming is employed.
We’ve all heard about the decline of our bumblebee population and their importance in the pollination of British food crops. But, did you know that the population and distribution of the humble hoverfly could be even more critical? There are 25 species of British bumblebees and, by comparison, over 250 species of hoverfly.
With the objective of economic and efficient food production, British farmers are driven to cultivate more of the countryside and, using modern machinery and chemicals, manage the environment to protect their crops and maximise yields. The concern is that this results in the loss of suitable habitats for a host of beneficial insects, especially pollinating species like bees and hoverflies. Fair to Nature farmers manage at least 10% of their productive farmland area to create suitable habitats for beneficial insects and other native species of insects, mammals and birds and they have always been confident that they support more wildlife than conventional farms. This new research has confirmed that, in the case of hoverflies, Fair to Nature farms have not only more individual insects, but also a significantly wider variety of species. In the research, which was undertaken in May, June and July, an average of 13 different species were observed on Fair to Nature farms compared with only 9 species on conventional farms.
Brin Hughes, Technical Manager leading the Fair to Nature project said, ‘We are very pleased but not surprised by Sophie’s results. Out and about on the farms, I see the difference Fair to Nature makes to wildlife every day, but it’s great that we now have further scientific proof of the benefit to these important species. We hope that this will lead to more manufacturers and retailers confidently specifying Fair to Nature ingredients as part of their food chain sustainability.’
Operation Turtle Dove, a partnership project we are involved in, is running a lovely little competition for children over the festive period called a Postcard from Titan…
Who is Titan?
Titan the Turtle Dove is a very special bird. He is the first Turtle Dove to be successfully tracked from his breeding grounds in the East of England to his winter home in sub-Saharan Africa.
Titan and his satellite tag. Photo credit: John Mallord/RSPB
In the summer of 2014 Titan was fitted with a specially designed satellite tag, weighing just 4.9 grams. He then spent the summer near his breeding grounds, before starting his migration at the end of September. Researchers at the RSPB were able to track him as he flew through France and Spain, stopping off for a few days in North Africa before settling in Mali in late October.
Titan’s return to England started on the 19th May this year when he left Mali and began the 5,600km journey back. Having crossed the 2,000km of Sahara desert, he spent a couple of weeks refuelling in Morocco, then another couple of weeks making his way through Spain and France, before finally settling near to where he had been tagged. This year Titan has once again successfully undertaken this mammoth journey to Mali! What a lot of places this dainty bird has visited!
Why is Titan so important to us?
Turtle doves are the UK’s only migrant dove and they herald the arrival of summer with their distinctive ‘turr-turr’ call. But this sound is becoming scarce. The Turtle Dove population is halving every six years and if the decline keeps going at this rate we risk losing the Turtle dove as a breeding species in the UK! Titan provides us with important information about the habitats of turtle doves and the route they take on migration. We can target our efforts to save them along this route.
Research conducted by the University of Reading (and partly funded by Conservation Grade) published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology found that Fair to Nature farms support 20 percent more plant and butterfly species than conventionally managed farms.
However organic farms showed even more increased wildlife benefits, with the majority of the organic farms in the study also providing targeted habitats as part of their government funded Higher Level Stewardship schemes.
So what can we conclude for policy makers, brands and consumers from this research? Certainly the best model for biodiversity would be organic farms combined with Fair to Nature accreditation such as some of our organic Fair to Nature accredited brands. This approach provides habitats and a way of farming that ensures flourishing biodiversity and the protection of the environment, whilst on the majority of conventionally farmed land our wildlife continues to haemorrhage from the countryside.
Organic yields in the UK are naturally lower due to lower intensification, yet it is in general a far better system for the land and the environment and could be argued has far more longevity than simply conventional agriculture. Although my belief is organic farming techniques should be adopted by conventional farmers to ensure they protect the resources that they rely upon to grow good crops. Of course organic has its problems too, but Fair to Nature can provide solutions to this form of agriculture as well as their conventional counterpart. We shouldn’t of course ignore the displacement of agriculture due to lower yields and the impacts upon global eco-systems as a result.
Professor Simon Potts from the University of Reading, who co-authored this research, said: “Organic farming can be very good for supporting wildlife, but organic farmers are restricted in their use of conventional fertilisers and pesticides, so more land is needed to grow the same amount of food. The Fair to Nature approach shows that it may be possible to achieve a win-win for productivity and wildlife, through smart farm management practices underpinned by strong science”
Not one mechanism will provide everything needed but each can be part of a mix of solutions. This research clearly demonstrates the need for change through a range of differing and targeted solutions; organic, organic combined with Fair to Nature accreditation and Fair to Nature accreditation on conventionally managed farms. All being underpinned by good government and EU policies both through incentives schemes and mandatory measures.