Turtle doves under fire

I haven’t seen a turtle dove in Northamptonshire this year and it seems I am not the only one.

By Miguel González Novo from Melilla, Spain. (Paloma bastarda) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
This was a bird that I didn’t see in the north Somerset countryside where I grew up.  It was only when we came on holiday to East Anglia that I saw my first turtle dove – but they were everywhere.  As soon as we got to The Fens there were turtle doves on every wire, in every village, round every grain store and by every road side.  It was really my first experience of what it is often like when one first visits a new country.  Suddenly, a bird that you’ve seen in the field guides, and hoped to see, and tried to learn its identification features, is everywhere and becomes familiar and normal and unexceptional.

But the turtle is a gorgeous bird.  It is difficult for one ever to ignore it although I fear I may have done in youthful enthusiasm for the next new bird (which at that stage might well have been spotted redshank or avocet).

Now the song of the turtle is much less commonly heard in the land – and I have seen only a handful this year whilst traversing those same East Anglian roads on which I would have seen scores 40 years ago.  If only I had had Birdtrack in those days then I could do something clever to show you how much less common they have become – but as it is I can just tell you.

There isn’t any doubt about it, of course. Turtle doves are known to have declined in the UK and right across Europe.

The causes of the decline are not fully known.  But in the UK turtle doves have very low breeding success so even with their reduced numbers they are finding it difficult to scrape a living in the countryside.  Changes in agriculture are known to have reduced the abundance of weeds on which they depend (fumitory is always the one that is mentioned).  There may be other things going on too.  Spring shooting in places like the Gironde is unhelpful for this species and also illegal under EU laws – but it happens.  It probably happens with a gallic shrug of the shoulders.

Also, there may be factors on the turtle dove’s wintering grounds which may not be helping it too, after all many sub-Saharan migrants are declining in Europe.

But, as I say, the main cause of the decline is, on the basis of research not conjecture, thought to operate on the breeding grounds causing low productivity.  A gang of organisations and farmers are working together in East Anglia to try to put things as right as possible for this beautiful and declining bird.

By Post of Moldova (http://www.posta.md/en/filatelia.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Last week there was a bit of a hoo-ha over a firm of agents (estate agents, sporting agents) called Davis and Bowring  who were advertising turtle dove shooting holidays in Morocco in June and July – you could fit in a few days shooting of turtle doves to get your eye in before the grouse season was the suggestion. Davis and Bowring have stopped featuring these trips on their website as a result of receiving lots of comments from angry fans of the turtle dove and I think we should thank them for that.

Turtle doves shot in Morocco in June and July are not UK turtle doves (I’d be pretty sure about that) and I don’t really know what the status of Moroccan turtle doves is.  Turtle dove shooting in Morocco is legal at this time of year (although whether it should be is another matter) and the shooting was restricted to four days a week by Moroccan law.

I love the turtle dove to bits, and I am saddened by its huge drop in numbers in the UK, but I’m not sure that we necessarily have the right target in our sights if we expend lots of moral outrage on some turtle dove shooting in Morocco.  Summer shooting of turtle doves in Morocco is not going to do the turtle dove population any good, but it is possible (although not certain) that it won’t do it much harm either.  The fact that it is a very beautiful bird, and that we love it to bits, and that it is declining in our neck of the woods doesn’t mean that anything that harms an individual turtle dove is fair game for our anger.

I got in touch with Davis and Bowring about these holidays and asked them a few questions.  They did get back to me, emailing from a layby on the A9 apparently (near a grouse moor?) and they seemed a bit perplexed and taken aback by the outcry.  Here is what they sent me:

Dear Dr Avery,

I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your emails but I am never near a computer at this time of year. (This is being written from a lay by on the A9!)

Regarding the Turtle Dove shooting, this is a trip which we haven’t facilitated for some years and we probably should have withdrawn the web page ages ago.

I have spoken to the local organising agent, expressing our concern that a red list endangered species was being hunted and threatened to become extinct if shooting was not stopped and his reply was that in Morocco the legal hunting of turtle doves was subject to strict seasonal control and numbers allowed to be shot were also subject to limits which were closely monitored. He also mentioned the socio economic benefits of shooting and highlighted the contrasting situation in Spain and France where shooting (and I suspect other European countries) went on, largely unregulated.

I am grateful to you and your many followers who have directed me to the various turtle Dove web sites and I shall look forward to finding out more about the migration habits of this beautiful bird and how improved agriculture in Morocco effects numbers of birds in North Africa.

Are ‘our’ turtle doves I.e. the few we see in the gardens and parks of Southern England from Africa? Perhaps they are, and I look forward to discovering more. If you could direct me to any other published works on the matter I would be grateful.

In the meantime, as you know we have withdrawn Moroccan Turtle Dove shooting from the range of services we offer and I hope the web page has now been closed.


That seems to me to be a perfectly good response.  If you agree then do let Davis and Bowring know through their website, please.

I would have my doubts about the strictness of the seasonal control of shooting and how well bags were monitored in Morocco but maybe the country has changed dramatically since last I was there.

The subject of killing of birds, particularly of endangered species (I use the term loosely here), is a tricky one.  I talk about it in Chapter 5 of Fighting for Birds.

I don’t know enough about the Moroccan situation to hold very strong views, but I am glad that this particular marketing of that sport has stopped.  Still continuing, in the UK of course, is the legal shooting of snipe, woodcock, red grouse and grey partridge (the first three of which are amber-listed and the last, symbol of GWCT, is red-listed).

Shooting of these species also isn’t the prime cause of their declines.  Are we asking all shooting of these species to cease? I don’t think that many of us are, and those who are, don’t claim that it is because shooting will drive down their numbers.  But if we asked questions about this shooting no-one could claim that the numbers allowed to be shot were subject to strict control and monitoring in the UK.  Maybe we should ask some Moroccans over to show us how that’s done.


41 Replies to “Turtle doves under fire”

  1. Would it even be fair to say that for Grey Partridge it may be farmer/landowners who feel passionately about the birds as well as shooting them who have actually been the major force in conserving them ?

    1. Roderick – yes I think we could say that too.

      Although (and I say this for added information not to diminish my agreement with what you said above), I do know a few farmers who are very keen on grey partridge conservation, but don’t shoot, and are a bit miffed that they see ‘their’ grey partridges being shot by neighbours.

  2. Davis & Bowring were one of three. Companies advertising these trips to Morocco and whilst they and Sportingagent.com have withdrawn the trips a third (larger?) provider Roxtons continue to ignore calls for these trips to be withdrawn instead removing references to the word ‘Turtle’ from their marketing in a blatant attempt to hide behind less specific wording.
    I would have thought that it is entirely possible that Turtle Doves in Morocco in early June may still move into Europe to breed and that by End July their could be failed European breeders in Morocco. Do we know that birds present in Morocco in one year aren’t young birds that subsequently breed in Europe or how much exchange exists between Moroocan and southern European ‘populations’?
    As far as Snipe , Woodcock and Grey Partridge are concerned I think you might be out of step Mark, I think if you were to survey RSPB members most would favour no shooting of these species, it has puzzled me why RSPB have never campaigned to remove waders from the list of quarry species, I wrote about it just recently.

  3. The Turtle Dove situation is desperately sad, and reading this blog I am reminded that it has been perhaps 15 years since I saw one in my native Cheshire.
    The last time I saw one was in June 2010 by a Notts gravel pit where I had the pleasure of listening to its soporific song at first light. They really are fantastic birds, and the thought that my daughter (or anyone elses children) might never see or hear one in the UK is difficult to contemplate.

  4. Hi Mark

    Given the dates that Davis-Bowring were advertising for these Turtle Dove hunting ‘holidays’ (June 26th to 3rd of August – within the legal hunting season for turtle doves in Morocco), it may be difficult to argue that this hunting would necessarily impact upon the European breeding population, which at this time could be still on the breeding grounds. Personally, I think it’s also possible that these birds could be from other European populations, perhaps largely including failed – I guess we simply don’t know.

    Turtle doves do of course breed in North Africa, but though anecdotal evidence from the region suggests a decline, there is little information on the population trend of Moroccan (or north African) breeding birds, or even an accurate population estimate (BWP simply states ‘abundant’ for Morocco and ‘common’ for Tunisia). The hunting period must span their breeding season in this region, but without more robust evidence, it would be hard to quantify the impact. A recent BirdLife report (http://www.birdlife.org/action/change/sustainable_hunting/PDFs/SHP_SR1_Bird_Hunting_Practices.pdf) included an estimate of around 25,200 turtle doves hunted annually each year in Morocco, which seems like a lot given the length of the hunting season.

    According to Jarry (1994) and Hill (1992) Turtle Dove is the EU quarry species worst affected by hunting as the species has a particularly low survival and productivity in Europe. Hunting is considered to constitute one of the main factors in their decline (Hill 1992, Tucker 1996).

    Therefore hunting seems very much an issue for Turtle Dove, with from what I have heard one in every four birds being shot on migration (Spring hunting having a major impact but pre-nuptial / autumn migration hunting probably also having an impact. The issues as you point out are multivariate for the species and problems associated with the 91% decline since 1970 in the UK seems to be linked to a collapse in breeding productivity due to lack of food, but also possibly continued hunting and wintering ground land-use change.

    In the 60s Turtle Doves were achieving up to four broods and from the 90s one, maybe two broods, this coincided with a switch in food from more natural food sources of arable plant seeds to cereals and other grains like rape seed. This has indicated a great reduction in the ‘natural’ seed sources these birds would normally utilise and these would be available throughout the summer period during their breeding cycle as opposed to one very small window of opportunity. The birds do face increasing pressures on their wintering grounds to land use change. Intensive grazing and irrigation could be reducing resources for the species on their wintering grounds further compounding the problem.

    Unsustainable hunting both legal and illegal will impact further and what is needed now is to quantify the full scale and impact of legal and illegal hunting, both in Europe and elsewhere, and provide information that should inform an update of the European Commission Management Plan for European Turtle Dove – which you can read here: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/wildbirds/hunting/docs/turtle_dove.pdf

    Hunting is often an emotive issue and it does engage the public more than say habitat issues, clearly because it’s harder to engage outrage over the CAP than the impacts of hunting.

    I also personally feel that these hunting trips are a bit like a legal tax-dodge, it might be legal but it isn’t morally the right thing to do for in particular a UK based operation. You can’t hunt Turtle Doves here but you can over to Morocco and shoot some of their birds instead?

    1. Ali-G – many thanks for all the information you supplied in that comment – much appreciated by me, and I’m sure many others too.

  5. Not only a gorgeous bird but one that is deeply embedded in European culture. It would be not only deeply sad but deeply shaming if we lose it.

  6. To me the moral questions of killing birds for sport and that of conserving endangered species are distinct. If I were to shoot the last turtle dove then from the perspective of animal welfare/rights it’s no different from shooting a starling. However from a conservation point of view there is obviously an enormous difference.

    Offering shooting opportunities for rare and endangered species may well help to conserve them. If I want to set up a grey partridge shoot in the UK then I have to do a lot of conservation work to maintain or encourage Grey partridge. The same goes for lions and other game in Africa. Of course in Africa there might well be far more conservation benefit from rich tourists coming over and spending lots of money to slaughter the wildlife than poor people killing them to eat them but there you go.

    It’s easy to right the conservation benefits of such activities off by saying people are only doing it for the money. But the fact is that often the best way to get conservation benefits is when they are aligned and not opposed to economic interests.

    How could we get more turtle doves in the UK? If maybe it would be by changing farming practices then maybe a few turtle dove shoots might provide the money and motivation.

    1. Giles, I think that is not far short of a counsel of despair. To say that conservation and economic interests are opposed is I think to posit a false dichotomy: in the long term conservation is in the interest of everyone, whether from the economic or any other point of view. Take the case of bees and neonicotinoids: assuming that it is true there is a connection, there is in the short term an economic value to the manufacturers and those who use them on or in their crops, but the long-term damage to the global economy and indeed the human race could be incalculable. Similarly, there might be a short-term gain from allowing someone to shoot lions, but wouldn’t it be better if they put down their rifles for binoculars? It seems also inherently selfish for one to kill something that could be enjoyed by a hundred others. There are few who would dispute the barbarity of the Roman venationes, but when there are still those who kill in the name of sport, can we really be said to have progressed? And should we still be pandering to such an urge, whether it be for lions or for Turtle Doves?

      1. Peter – Don’t worry, if I ever go to Africa I’ll bring binoculars and shoot the animals with a camera and not like this http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2089806/The-giraffe-hunters-pay-10-000-shoot-gentle-giants-guns-bows-sport.html However I can also see that those hunters might actually be helping improve giraffe numbers and habitat as well. Both my and their money would be earn t by sustaining giraffe populations and habitat and combatting poaching etc. Obviously there is a long term economic interest to sustain nature but there needs to be a short term one as well.

    2. Giles – I don’t buy the old chestnut that you need to kill something en-mass to conserve it – that’s a Victorian approach that I can’t accept. You might need to artificially prop up the population with the odd million reared birds though to maintain sufficient abundance to support the sport. This might improve well being for some other species but is not an excuse for conserving something if it means artificially and simultaneously controlling predator species in the name of sport.

      What I do find facinating however is what drives a well-fed man (very well in my case)to want to spend good money to mass kill something that he has no intention of eating and was never at pest levels that needed “management” either? I’m not against killing for very good and last resort reasons but as someone who has zero urge to prove himself in sporting terms with a shotgun, I’d love to know what drives others to want to bag as many doves as they can and then have their photo taken with the pile of corpses and the end of their day? How does it make you feel and why Giles when simply observing “live” nature has so much to offer and is still there for the next man when you’re finished?

  7. I fear the Turtle Dove population is in such a disastrous state that any hunting continually has a an impact. As Ali-G states:

    “According to Jarry (1994) and Hill (1992) Turtle Dove is the EU quarry species worst affected by hunting as the species has a particularly low survival and productivity in Europe. Hunting is considered to constitute one of the main factors in their decline (Hill 1992, Tucker 1996)”

    I’m also not aware of any conservation effort that still allowed the hunting of a species in such a parlous state that enabled the recovery of its numbers, especially when one of the many threats it faces to its existence happens to be hunting. – I’m happy to be educated though. One in four being shot on migration and lack of food resources – sounds a bit like the Passenger Pigeon…!

    Of course shooting of Grey Partridges haven’t helped to recover their numbers as the 86% decline shows and perhaps it is worthy of a review of species still lawfully shot as ‘game’ like Snipe or Woodcock.

    The Uk and other EU governments removed Turtle Dove as a quarry species due to its conservation status – given its continued and rapid decline it would sensible to look at countries that still permit such practices, review the impacts and dependent on the findings remove it as a quarry species.

    I would also question the use of Stewardship scheme money, my taxes paying for a ‘shootable surplus’ I and society don’t benefit from that, but yet I pay for it – I’d like my Turtle Doves, Grey Partridge, Snipe etc that I paid for alive, thanks very much so I can enjoy them along with other tax payers.

  8. Interesting that in the UK the shooting seasons are timed so that they do not overlap with the breeding season but that in Morocco the turtle dove open season (apparently 3rd July to 31st August) overlaps with the breeding season. This may have some effect on breeding success (see below for source). I would guess that most British ‘guns’ – who are, as we know, keen conservationists – would regard shooting birds in their breeding season as unsporting? Perhaps those that partake in unsporting shooting of turtle doves in Morocco should be named and shamed by their fellows?

    There is a relevant paper in Bird Study – 58, pt 1 Feb 2011 by Saad Hanane and Lahoussaine Baamal.

  9. As an update to my earlier comment Roxtons have also withdrawn their website advertising on Morocco tours and issued the following statement on their website:

    Turtle Doves: Thank you for your posts and comments. The trips have been removed from our website and we are investigating this issue urgently.

    It is to be hoped that their investigations come to the right long-term conclusions

  10. Mark
    As you know, normally I would follow you into a burning cornfield if you asked me too – but I have to say I’m slightly disappointed by the tone of your blog here. You are a passionate advocate of people (birders/conservationists/the person in the street etc) making a stance over issues they feel strongly about (I would quote you the chapter in ‘Fighting for Birds’ but you wrote it so you already know it well). To say there was ‘a bit of a hoo-haa’, that ‘if we expend lots of moral outrage on some turtle dove shooting in Morocco’ and especially ‘The fact that it is a very beautiful bird, and that we love it to bits, and that it is declining in our neck of the woods doesn’t mean that anything that harms an individual turtle dove is fair game for our anger’ undermines that very call to arms that you make. I understand that not everyone feels the same way but personally the fact that I do love Turtle Doves to bits is exactly why I spoke up and helped spread the word about these hunting trips – which are very much fair game for our anger. Personally I felt outraged that a British company should be enabling overseas trips for Brits to shoot Turtle Doves – a species they should have known (that they now do doesn’t enthuse me to send them congratulatory telegrams to be honest) is in serious decline and that would be illegal to shoot here. I don’t care a jot that it’s legal to kill Turtle Doves in Morocco – it was legal here once too and whether legal or not I feel I have the absolute right to get angered by what is going on. Companies like Davis and Bowring are precisely those that are used by eg Malta’s immoral hunters when they say that we should get our own house in order, and they deserved to be called out. It was more than a ‘hoo haa’ – it was all about passionate birders getting irate and trying to do something. And it looks like we achieved something which in the current anti-wildlife climate should be applauded I think.
    Isn’t that how conservation works anyway? Someone, somewhere gets passionate about something (a bird, an insect, a plant, a mudflat), gets other people involved, and they all try to get our conservation organisations involved, and finally (hopefully) something is done despite the endless opposition, denial of a problem, and (often) ridicule?
    Anyway, no doubt I shall be back to near 100% support of you by next week, but on this one I – and a number of other people – will have to disagree with you.

    1. Charlie – thanks for this and I thought you would feel that way. I greatly respect your views – especially because you are vegetarian and it seems to me that you have a pretty coherent view of these matters. Your view is not exactly the same as mine on this particular issue although we agree pretty much exactly on most things. Thanks for your tolerant, as ever, comment.

    2. I can safely say that one would not follow him into a burning cornfield but if the opportunity arouse to have ones keepers drive him onto a burning grouse moor, well, chance would be a fine thing!

    3. Mark, I have been struggling with a way of saying I am not with you on this one but Charlie Moores has said it in a much more eloquent way. One of my concerns is the reference that these are not UK birds but do we know that our birds don’t go through that country into Europe and turn left. Other birds have been supported when they weren’t UK birds and this is a UK Company. We dealt with Roseate tern issues in Africa where presumably they were being taken legally (see appropriate chapter in Fighting for Birds).

  11. Mark,

    I have to say that I am very disappointed with this post. I feel that you are ridiculing the efforts made by everyone who stood up in defence of the Turtle Dove. We all agree that the hunting of Turtle Doves is not the key cause of the decline; however with such a rapidly declining species any negative action is going to contribute to a reduction in population size.

    I am pleased that you along with many of us contacted Davis and Bowring; I am also pleased that they eventually withdrew the trip in contention. However I really do not think they should be congratulated for this. Ignorance is no defence and as a reputable UK company they should have researched their quarry species thoroughly. I would happily congratulate them if they were to make a substantial donation to Operation Turtle Dove!

    I personally did not stand up for the Turtle Dove as it is a pretty species; I stood up for it because it needs support.

    Your post is incredibly condescending. I believe you should be applauding the massive effort made by so many people to stand up for a species that is such trouble.

    How can we oppose the illegal atrocities made on migratory birds every spring & autumn in Malta, Cyprus etc if we sit back and allow UK companies run hunting trips like this unchallenged?

    Tristan Reid

    1. Tristan – thanks. I’ve had my say and I’m happy for you to have yours. I do think that Davis and Bowring deserve some credit for apparently doing the right thing.

    2. Although I don’t think I would necessarily follow Mark into a burning cornfield myself I do think that there is a bit of an over-reaction to what he wrote. Having re-read it I can’t really detect any ridicule of or condescension towards the people who have objected to the turtle dove hunting excursions to Morocco – he did after all contact Davis and Bowring himself about them. It is fair enough, though, to put forward an argument about where conservation efforts for this species are best directed (although objecting to shooting, especially on Spring migration or during the breeding season, may not compete that much with resources required to address the problems of low breeding success????).
      With regards to whether D&B should be congratulated for their actions in stopping advertising these trips I would suggest that recent debates about Hen Harriers and grouse moors point up the fact that there is considerable intransigence in the shooting community so when people from that community do make genuine changes in their position to accomodate the views of conservationists then that is something to commend. If we refuse to give credit where it is due and simply insist on focussing on how wrong they were in the first place then we may have the effect of hardening attitudes against us and reducing the liklihood of similar concessions in the future.

      1. I totally agree. I thought the content of the blog was constructive and the response from D & B reasonable, so credit where credit is due.

  12. I think we lost sight of something here (Turtle Doves perhaps!) – The reason why Turtle Doves are going the way of the Passenger Pigeon is due to a variety of reasons not just one. Hunting both legal and illegal happens to be one of them – how much? that probably requires a lot more research I’m guessing, but there can be little doubt its taking its toll. Birds in Morroco may not be UK birds but it is possible these are from other European populations and I don’t think anybody understands the inter-relationship of the populations in North Africa and southern Europe? and its a species in massive decline across Europe according to the PECBMS.

    I also dont believe for a moment that hunting is in anyway, in reality, regulated carefully, particularly in Morroco.

    I think we should say well done (perhaps through gritted teeth!) to Davis and Bowring and the others for responding in the right way, but even more so we should ackowledge those who ‘stepped-up’ or is it ‘stood-up’ (?) for Turtle Doves/Nature because we have been waiting for that for a long time and finally its happening………today Buzzards and Turtle Dove tomorrow ….the CAP?

    I do think there is a danger that if we all talk about hunting of the species nothing happens here to change the habitats for the better to provide them with food and nesting habitat they so desperatly need. I can see a certain ‘flat-Earthers’ (as my mate Gongfarmer puts it) blaming the declines not on farming practices (heaven forbid) but on hunting pressure as the only reason. Which makes me wonder how the ‘Essex-Peasants’ Turtle Doves are doing and what habitats he has for them?

    Although Mark, I do need to challenge some of what you wrote, you did state: “the main cause of the decline is, on the basis of research not conjecture, thought to operate on the breeding grounds causing low productivity”

    Actually that happens to be one of the issues, hunting happens to be another and possibly/probably land use change on their wintering grounds.

    I’m looking at this and thinking if we all sit around not doing anything and claim we dont know if its having an impact but we think it could be then I’m pretty sure you will have a far less chance of Turtle Dove on your year list and you’ll be forced to see them only behind bars at Pensthorpe!….what an absolutely horrid thought.

    All these problems for this special dove are what makes saving the Turtle Dove so very difficult, but that’s also why every positive action for the species is to be applauded and encouraged.

    1. Gok – good points. We certainly shouldn’t sit around doing nothing and I’m glad the work that I referenced is going on in the UK. I was struck by Ali-G’s comment (although it is a little difficult to take seriously comments coming from that name) on the drop in number of broods in the UK now compared with 50 years ago. And that is even though the population is so much lower and therefore the resources of nest sites and food should be easier to come by for individual pairs (all other things being equal).

      We shouldn’t say, and I don’t think anyone here has, ‘it’s all so complicated that we can’t do anything’. But where there is a very clear indication of what the problem is and if (sometimes a big ‘if’) that issue can be solved or reduced then that is the place to start. And that is particularly true where resources are limited (which they almost always are) and where success is uncertain (which it almost always is).

      My understanding, and my intuition too, on this subject is that ‘the main cause of the decline is, on the basis of research not conjecture, thought to operate on the breeding grounds causing low productivity’ and that’s why I wrote those words. If that’s wrong, then we’d better identify what is the main cause of the decline and start tackling that (it it is possible to tackle it).

      In the words of the RSPB’s favourite supermarket – ‘every little helps’. But every ‘big’ helps more than every ‘little’ and choosing where to direct your efforts (which species, which issues etc) is part of the recipe for conservation success.

    2. it seem madness to me to be shooting turtle doves when the are breeding morroco should stop this now i wonder how many are shot in spain and malta im sure some of these birds would have been uk bound i will be in touch with the government department of each country to see what if any can be done to limet the shooting

  13. Sometimes though Mark little wins can make a big difference and for those of working outside the sphere of conservation, the efforts we can make beyond subscribing to conservation organisations are limited. Personally I can’t afford to throw money willy billy to help conservation (much as I would like to) but I can protest, campaign, rabble rouse, write, shout and stamp my feet when the occasion arises. This neither detracts from the efforts of others or in my view diverts attention if it contributes to the big picture of doing as much as we can to combat the devasti g influence we have on so much of the natural world

  14. I live in Portugal and have noticed the decline in Turtle Doves year on year.
    It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that these birds “belong” to one country or another. The species is declining and under serious threat.
    It shouldn’t be shot. Period.
    Why don’t they shoot Collared Doves instead? That’s a species that’s expanding exponentially and if these rambo men want to fulfill their killer instincts why don’t they do something useful?
    No, this is, I’m afraid, much more along the lines of, “It’s rare, so let’s bag it while we still can”.

  15. I think the position on the shooting of Turtle Dove is an absolute one – an absolute No. There is a perception that pervades that all is OK with a species elsewhere if this isn’t challenged. The message can only be entirely clear to the wider public and interested parties if such a position is taken.
    In my line of work I am increasingly having to carry out more and more checks and ticking of boxes and I fail to see why a company specializing in shooting tours can’t even be bothered to check the status of the wild species they are advertising to be shot. I’m relieved they have removed this, but I’m not going to be grateful they did!

  16. Mark – In conjunction with Stow Maries Wildlife and the RSPB, the EBwS has organised an ‘ESSEX FARMLAND BIRD CONSERVATION CONFERENCE’ to be held on 8th & 9th September 2012, with all proceeds going to Turtle Dove conservation. This is an opportunity for everyone to learn more about the problems farmland birds are facing and what can be done to help save them. The two-day event consists of presentations and discussions from some expert speakers on day one, followed by a farm walk guided dy David Lindo aka the Urban Birder at Bryher Farm, St Osyth to see how good conservation measures and management produces positive results. Farmed land is by far the largest habitat type in Essex, so understanding how birds can co-exist in this habitat is of great significance.

    Please could you plug it:




  17. Hi Mark – appreciate your response to my comment.

    It is my intuition perhaps that makes me believe the driver of Turtle Dove declines are multivariate and not simply down to one problem – Breeding, migration and wintering.

    All of which need full understanding and all of which require actions.

  18. I’m arriving late at this particular party, but much of what I would have wanted to say as been very well expressed by Charlie Moores, Tristan Reid and Alan Tilmouth. But like them I too was disappointed, and surprised, at your blog post on this.

    I am proud to be one of those who rose up against Davis and Bowring and Roxtons in particular on this issue. So in this respect I think you have all the main protagonists from the recent social media uprising commenting on your blog.

    Gok’s recent post pretty much sums it up for me. The decline of the Turtle Dove is indeed multifaceted. I’m sure we do not fully understand the local issues in North Africa, where Turtle Dove is considered a pest. But we also don’t, as others have pointed out, understand whether populations in North Africa during the hunting period there contain birds from Europe. So, I’d rather err on the side of caution and protect until we do understand these facets better.

    Also, even if there is a genuine local need to control a pest species, this should be undertaken locally by the locals. I find it abhorrent for a UK company to encourage UK citizens to shoot Turtle Doves (or anything else) for fun in the name of trying to help control a pest species. Not all hunting is black and white, but hunting for pure sport, as here, is for me. Do you think those taking part in these trips gave a damn that they were a pest in Morocco? No, this in their minds only sight to legitmise their actions.

    I do not think Davis and Bowring should be thanked or credited for removing these trips. Their response to you was telling in several respects. Firstly, they were ignorant (and largely still are) of the issues surrounding a quarry species for one of their advertised trips. I wonder how ignorant they are of the other quarry species on their other trips? They had to go to their ground agent to seek an answer for their reply to you. They also suggested that these trips should have been removed some time ago, but purely on the basis that they were not selling. And finally, what little reading-up they’ve undertaken on Turtle Doves on the back of our campaign against them, shows their continued ignorance. The Davis and Bowring spokesman stated ‘Are ‘our’ turtle doves I.e. the few we see in the gardens and parks of Southern England from Africa? Perhaps they are, and I look forward to discovering more’. This demonstrates their continued ignorance and failure to read (or understand) the links they have been sent. Or is this simply a failure to accept the facts presented by the RSPB and others – nothing new there then from some hunters.

    As Charlie Moores said in his own blog piece see here they got caught out. Ignorance is no form of defence and I bet if we hadn’t brought this to others’ and their attention, they would still be advertising the trips in the hope that they might just get some customers for them, and make profits off the back of hunting birds for fun.

  19. Well I live in Southern California, USA & my neighbor successfully breeds European Turtle Doves all year round as pets in huge beautiful well protected outdoor aviaries. He’s got 10 original unrelated adult pairs that breed roughly 8 clutches a year & most if not all do survive to adulthood.

    1. Eddie – welcome and thank you for your very interesting comment from s Cal. I was over your way last June (Yosemite, San Fran. Monterey Bay, Joshua Tree NP).

  20. So 8 clutches a year × 10 breeding pairs equals 80 clutches a year which consists of 2 squabs per clutch so that’s 160 doves been hatched in one year alone. Not bad for captive bred & in a foreign country. He used to sell them to other dove breeders & fanciers but immediately stopped selling them when he learned that they are on the red list for endangered species in their native Europe. He made it his mission to continue breeding these beautiful doves in his own home to have enough to maybe save them from extinction & possibly return them back to the wild in their native Europe. He’s been very successful & I know so because I visit him everyday & seen their numbers increase in the many aviaries he’s got & makes he & I very happy.

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