This week Anna's blog comes from Deputy Editor Emma Pocklington.
Every day working on the RSPB publications affords opportunities to learn from some of the world's leading wildlife experts. We get the chance to interview people working across the globe to save nature, and hear behind the scenes insights on the work being done. From our office in Bristol we're transported to far flung places by long distance calls, and everyone we speak to patiently talks us through the detailed work they've been doing, answering our sometimes very long list of questions.
For the latest issue of the Impact newsletter, I made a call a little bit closer to home, and had the pleasure of speaking to RSPB International Migrants Programme Manager, Carles Carboneras. I interviewed Carles for a news feature covering the Birds Without Borders programme, and the plight of the turtle dove.
A pretty, dainty little bird, smaller than the collared dove, turtle doves can be seen in southern and eastern England throughout the summer months. I grew up in the New Forest, so it's likely that turtle doves have crossed my path, but they're a species I know very little about.
You'd be lucky to spot one turtle dove today, let alone a pair. Photo: Steve Knell (rspb-images.com)
1. They are in serious danger
Turtle doves are not just facing rapid declines, they are in fact on the brink of extinction. The numbers Carles runs through are startling. Over the last 45 years the UK has lost 96% of its turtle doves – where there were once 120,000 pairs there are now just 5,000. And it's not just the UK where there are problems. Many countries across Europe have seen numbers decline.
2. They cover vast distances
We know that turtle doves migrate through France, Spain and Portugal, before wintering in Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal. A GPS tracker fitted to one bird, delightfully named Angela, showed the route taken from the UK to Africa and back. This means that in order to save turtle doves, organisations such as the RSPB and EU Life will need to work across borders on an international scale. Carles walks me through the long process of drawing up a Species Action Plan, the task assigned to the RSPB by EU Life. This task is something made more complicated still by the UK's impending exit from the EU.
3. Conservationists and hunters are working together for the first time
One point that really surprised me was that those working to save the turtle dove have much to learn from hunters. The decline seen in turtle doves is largely thought to be due to habitat destruction, and as hunters in France and Spain manage the land in such a way as to favour the turtle dove, the project is not looking to eliminate hunting. Instead, conservationists plan to learn from the hunters, understanding how they are producing more turtle doves.
4. Lack of information has been one of the biggest problems
The main problem facing turtle doves is that most people don't know it's in danger. Once a common bird throughout Europe, people are largely unaware that the species has declined.
5. The turtle doves have a champion
The good news is, people are becoming more and more aware of the problem. Turtle dove supporter Jonny Rankin has organised a Dove Step team, who have walked the 1,740 mile migration route of the species to raise funds. The walk was featured on Spanish television, and the nation has really got behind the cause.
Finding a pair of turtle doves for your loved-one at Christmas is a lot harder than it used to be, but the more people who are unaware of the issue, like me, learn about this species, the closer we come to saving a very special bird.
Look out for more about the progress of the RSPB's partnership work to save the turtle dove in the news section of your next issue of Nature's Home.