Surely we should be applauding? A mammoth journey underway, not helped by two roaring Rolls Royce engines, but by the power of muscle and evolutionary adaptation. When you hear or see your first Redwings as I have this week, you, like me, might well just be tempted to applaud.

Whilst our minds may well turn to those arriving from the near-Arctic, do you not wonder what might become of some of those summer visitors and breeders that have now left our shores and are now well into their travels to winter in the moist forests and Sahelian regions of Mid-Africa?

I do wonder, because I’m seeing a lot less of them, are you? The Spotted Flycatcher for instance perhaps should be renamed the lesser Spotted Flycatcher because I now see them so infrequently.

A Spotted Flycatcher from a Fair to Nature farm this summer - State of the UK Birds

Spotted Flycatcher on a Fair to Nature farm this summer © S.G. Tonkin

It seems a distant memory when I would see them annually without fail in several suburban haunts in Plymouth, sadly they haven’t been observed there for sometime. I found a calling Spotted Flycatcher on a small remnant of oak woodland amongst an industrial state in Norwich last year, yet no sign this summer.

To reaffirm these observations successive reports have highlighted the plight of long distance migrants such as Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchats, Wood Warblers and Turtle Doves to name but a few. The launch of the State of the UK’s Birds 2014 published by the RSPB on behalf of a coalition of NGOs – the RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) – and the UK Government’s statutory nature conservation agencies makes for depressing reading.

These species do face many threats and whilst its tempting to focus our attentions on single issues we must take account of all the things we are throwing at them. The issues are often multi-variate and they all need tackling through a collaboration of conservation organisations and likeminded individuals.

Turtle Dove pairs breeding in the late 1990s may have only raised around half the number of clutches and young per season compared to the 1960s. This decline in productivity is sufficient to account for the decline in abundance. Recent research has also revealed that around 96% of the UK’s Turtle Doves are carrying parasites which can cause the disease trichomonosis.

Tim Appleton one of the founders and orchestrators of the Birdfair at Rutland Water provided me with an all to familiar observation “There have been two fly pasts this year at Rutland Water !!! Four years ago we had several pairs breeding, desperate times”

Now it is clear to me that Turtle Doves a particular focus of our work here with like minded individuals and organisations through Operation Turtle Dove are suffering from massive changes to their breeding grounds. This is leading to insufficient food resources to raise sufficient numbers of young and if you are a hungry Turtle Dove illness won’t be far from your door due to this increasing “food stress”.

Yet if your population is in free-fall due to these impacts caused by the way we now farm then blasting anywhere between 2–4 million Turtle Doves from the skies of southern Europe each year is going to have an ever greater impact upon an already stressed population.

Incidentally I was in the Straits of Gibraltar recently and travelling into Morocco along with Migres colleagues we watched in awe as a migrating flock of  30+ Turtle Dove moved through a wetland site. …..when did you last see that many?

We are working with Fair to Nature farmers at Steve’s Leaves creating Turtle Dove friendly habitats not only in the UK but also in Portugal and Spain, creating feeding, nesting and sheltering areas for this and other wildlife on their farms. So look out for Steve’s Leaves as buying their tasty salad bags ensures support for the right kinds of habitats but also ensuring areas free of Turtle Dove hunting.

Turtle Dove migrating through the Straits of Gibraltar - State of the UK Birds

Turtle Dove migrating through the Straits of Gibraltar © S. G. Tonkin

Whilst we are being more positive there are some conservation success stories in the State of the UK Birds. One of these is the story of the Red Kite that has started to come back to former numbers due to well planned reintroduction programmes following many centuries of persecution.

When I was about 11 my Dad and I got rather excited about seeing a Red Kite in Wales on a stuffy coach trip, one of the only places you could see them at the time. Now I see them with some regularity almost anywhere in the UK and what fantastic birds they are, worthy of celebration and applause.

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