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National Trust hopes for more than two turtle doves in extension to Wicken Fen nature reserve





The National Trust has acquired an additional 70 acres (28 hectares) of land beside its Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve - and is hoping turtle doves are among the rare species that will benefit.

Once a frequent visitor to the UK, where it would spend spring and summer before returning to wintering grounds in west Africa, its numbers have been in sharp decline since the 1970s.

Close-up of a Turtle Dove, a rare visitor to Calke Abbey, taken in the trees behind the bird hide. Picture: National Trust
Close-up of a Turtle Dove, a rare visitor to Calke Abbey, taken in the trees behind the bird hide. Picture: National Trust

Red-listed, it is now under threat of global extinction due to habitat loss, shortages of food and unsustainable levels of hunting.

A 2021 survey suggested the UK has about 2,100 breeding pairs - and East Anglia and the South East are the best places to spot them.

In these areas, the plight of this small and exquisitely patterned dove is the subject of a concerted effort from farmers, landowners and conservation organisations.

Working under ‘Operation Turtle Dove’, they are trying to restore turtle dove habitat on farmlands to help tackle their decline.

Turtle Doves (Streptopelia turtur) fighting in flight, Norfolk, UK, June
Turtle Doves (Streptopelia turtur) fighting in flight, Norfolk, UK, June

Wicken Fen, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, will use some of its newly-acquired landscape to support turtle doves, along with other farmland birds, aided by a £58,000 grant from Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme and donations towards hedgerow tree planting.

Alan Kell, countryside manager at Wicken Fen, said: “As outlined in the State of Nature report released in September this year, the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, with a significant part of this a result of habitat loss.

“This acquisition and the support of Natural England's Species Recovery Programme will provide the opportunity to restore scarce habitats such as lowland meadow, hedgerows, arable field margins and ponds, and expand Wicken Fen to provide a green corridor for the benefit of both nature; including many nationally threatened species such as the turtle dove, but also for people, by providing additional access to green spaces.

Bioblitz with the local community on the newly-acquired part of Wicken Fen near the village of Reach. Picture: National Trust Images / Mike Selby.jpg
Bioblitz with the local community on the newly-acquired part of Wicken Fen near the village of Reach. Picture: National Trust Images / Mike Selby.jpg

“On one of the recently acquired parcels of land on the outskirts of the village of Reach, we are set to establish a mix of habitats, including a wild bird cover crop, lowland meadow and hedgerows to encourage turtle doves and other farmland birds and invertebrates to the area come spring. The team will then survey the biodiversity of the site, including monitoring for turtle doves during the breeding season with results feeding into ‘Operation Turtle Dove,’ a project run by the RSPB, Natural England and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, that advises on turtle dove habitat creation.

Alan added: “Turtle doves feed mostly on arable and mixed farmland, where its staple food of wildflower seeds and farmed crop grains are found on the ground. The species nests and roosts near to its feeding grounds in thorny scrub, tall wide hedgerows and dense scrubby woodland edges.”

Mike Shurmer, head of species for RSPB England, said: “The ambition of the communities we work with through Operation Turtle Dove to help save these iconic birds is nothing short of amazing, and if we continue with this momentum, it won’t be long before we can expect to see Turtle Dove numbers starting to rise across the UK.”

Community bird tour at Reach, Wicken Fen. Picture: National Trust Images / Mike Selby
Community bird tour at Reach, Wicken Fen. Picture: National Trust Images / Mike Selby

Wicken Fen was the first nature reserve to be acquired by the National Trust, when two acres were bought in 1899.

It has since expanded to more than 2,000 acres (809 hectares) and the site supports more than 9,300 species. The latest expansion was funded by legacies and public donations and forms part of the 100-year Wicken Fen Vison, launched in 1999, to expand and create a diverse landscape for nature, carbon and people, over 53 square kilometres, stretching from Wicken Fen to Anglesey Abbey, about five miles (8km), and the edge of Cambridge.

Community managed woodland at Reach, Wicken Fen. Picture: National Trust Images / Mike Selby
Community managed woodland at Reach, Wicken Fen. Picture: National Trust Images / Mike Selby

Emma Ormond-Bones, general manager at Wicken Fen, said: “By working in partnership with landowners and tenants, our aim is to enhance biodiversity, secure carbon through peat and habitat restoration, and provide accessible greenspace for people.

“People will be able to enjoy access and recreation opportunities across the Vision area, with opportunities to get involved through volunteering, education, events and interpretation in the landscape.”

The trust has also been working with villagers in Reach on community-led projects, including woodland planting, which has created potential nesting habitats for turtle doves, while efforts to establish ponds are under way. They now hope to work together on monitoring turtle doves.

Community managed woodland at Reach, Wicken Fen. Picture: National Trust Images / Mike Selby
Community managed woodland at Reach, Wicken Fen. Picture: National Trust Images / Mike Selby

Resident Nick Acklam said:: “Over the last 10 years or so the community of Reach had benefitted from the National Trust’s acquisition of the 24 acres. Half the land had been leased to the village and had enabled four projects that were close to the heart of the community, namely creating an equestrian manège, developing an award-winning cricket pitch and planting a community orchard and native woodland.

“Villagers look forward to participating in future projects led by the trust to add to the biodiversity of the area including the creation of ponds.”

More than 40 per cent of the UK’s native species are in decline and the UK is recorded as being in the bottom 10 per cent of countries globally for protecting nature.

Visiting saveourwildisles.org.uk to see how you can help.



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