Crisis for icons of Christmas

A NEW government report shows that birds reliant of farmed landscapes - such as the turtle dove and grey partridge - are continuing to decline.

There have been staggering reductions in the birds’ numbers.

Once widespread in southern Britain, the turtle dove population – which is currently estimated at 14,000 pairs - is now balancing on a knife-edge in the UK, with nearly 60 per cent lost in the five years to 2010.

The UK grey partridge population is estimated to be around 43,000 pairs, but this too has fallen, by 30 per cent over the same period.

RSPB scientist Dr Mark Eaton said: “Losing six out of ten of our turtle doves and three out of ten grey partridge in five years is nothing short of an unsustainable wildlife disaster.

“The turtle dove is in a great degree of danger - if this trend were to continue we could be down to fewer than 1000 pairs by the middle of the next decade, with complete extinction a real possibility.

“These two icons of Christmas are telling us that wildlife is in crisis.

“We are urging the Government to take urgent action to save these species from becoming just memories within the Twelve Days of Christmas festive classic.”

Triggered by the impending crisis facing turtle doves, Operation Turtle Dove was launched earlier this year. This is a three-year collaborative project between the RSPB, Conservation Grade and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, supported by Natural England.

Through Operation Turtle Dove, RSPB advisers are helping West Sussex’s farmers help turtle doves on their land by implementing simple conservation measures such as providing summer seed-rich habitats that the species are so dependent on but is now lacking in our countryside due to the declines in arable plants, like fumitory, which the species rely upon.

The RSPB is anxious that funding available to farmers for wildlife-friendly farming will be cut when European leaders meet to finalise the European budget next year. This funding has helped farmers to increase the populations of some threatened birds, such as the cirl bunting and stone-curlew.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: “European funding provides the UK with the largest single pot of money for wildlife conservation. This money, which is paid to farmers to put nature back into our countryside is vital, but it is still seriously at risk as EU leaders wrangle over the big numbers.”