Good news story: Turtle Doves in a weedy corner

Richard Baines – North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer

On 24 June I got a text message from one of our Turtle Dove volunteer surveyors. The message went something like…

‘A good morning’s survey – I saw five Turtle Doves including two feeding alongside eight Yellowhammers in a weedy corner of a nearby field’.

I was very pleased Andy had seen five Turtle Doves because that was one more than I had seen in the same survey square the previous month. But hang on a minute … ‘feeding in a weedy corner’ ?… that phrase pushed me to the edge of my seat … I messaged Andy back and asked him to send me a map of where they were feeding … as soon as I saw the map, I gave a big hurrah!!!

The ‘weedy corner’ was in fact the wild flower plot sown in the last couple of years by a farmer especially for these endangered birds as part of the grant scheme through the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project. Even better – Andy had actually got a photo of one of the doves (see below), great evidence of success! I rang up the farmer to give him the good news – not surprisingly he was very pleased that his hard work was having the desired effect. The flowers in the mix he planted include Turtle Dove favourites such as Common Fumitory, Black Medick and Birds-foot Trefoil. Three species which were once commonly found by the side of arable fields but are now increasingly rare.

The farmer and I had located the flower plot in one of his arable field alongside Forestry England woodland. This forest-farmland edge is a habitat known to be favoured by Turtle Doves, and other species such as the Yellowhammers Andy had also seen.

A Turtle Dove in seeded plot 24.6.20 (North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project). Copyright A Malley.

Our Turtle Dove Project has been overwhelmed by the good will shown by local communities and farmers. Now we have direct local evidence showing that these wild flowers and their seed really do make a difference for these beautiful birds when it comes to feeding – so we can continue our work with an extra spring in our step!

National Lottery Heritage Fund logo

For more about the North Yorkshire Turtle Doves (and Richard) – have a look at a feature on our website called Bid to save turtle doves.

Pond Purr-fect!

Richard Baines – North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer

There is something magical about ponds: the mystery of what’s lurking in the depths, the tranquility of water and the constantly changing scene as many types of wildlife come and go on a fleeting visit or stay on to take full advantage of the precious habitats provided.

Turtle doves are no different from every other bird on the planet – they need water to survive. During the summer when our doves are raising a brood of chicks or squabs, finding water becomes even more important. Turtle doves feed crop milk to their small chicks in the nest in the first four days of their life. The milk is made from secretions from a lining in the crop. After four days the milk is mixed with regurgitated food and slowly changed to solid food as they become older.

That’s why through our Turtle Dove Project we have been keen on providing water sources – in particular now during the winter before our turtle doves return in the spring. This post celebrates one local farmer who has been keen on restoring his dew pond for a long time in the south west corner of the North York Moors and we were very pleased to assist his aim with a bit of project funding, especially as there were turtle doves recorded on the farm in 2019.

Over 100 years ago there were many dew ponds across the landscape. Originally used for livestock to drink from and created at sites which naturally collected water, many of the older ponds have now vanished as farming systems have changed and the ponds have dried up.

This is the story of the recent dew pond restoration revealed through photography…

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond location. Copyright NYMNPA.

Before the pond (the site in summer 2019). The original depression left of the track filled with ruderal vegetation with very little sign of the old pond.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

Digging the test pit. A major success as we found the old dew pond stone base about three feet below ground.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

Taking Levels. This to to ensure the pond is created level to the above ground area, a tilting pond will run dry!

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The first buckets. Spoil was piled up by the side of the site then removed from site using a dumper.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The first layer, weed membrane. A membrane helps to prevent vegetation growth into the water tight clay and provides a level  area for laying the clay.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The second layer. clay lining. Special ‘puddling clay is brought in to provide the water proof base for the pond. A radio controlled roller is used to compact the clay.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The third layer, barley straw . Straw is spread over the clay to reduce algal growth and provide an additional substrate within which essential pond plants can grow.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The fourth and final layer, limestone chippings. Used as a traditional protection layer to reduce the risk of clay drying and protect the pond base from the damaging feet of paddling stock animals.

NY Turtle Dove Project - dew pond restoration. Copyright NYMNPA.

The finished pond.

NY Turtle Dove Project - restored dew pond. Copyright NYMNPA.

One week later! After Storm Dennis we have water in the pond.. All we need now is the vegetation to grow back up and of course our doves to come back from Africa! 

Inspirational birds

Richard Baines – North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Officer

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project has benefited from huge support since we started back in 2016; from local farmers to national celebrities, we have been amazed at how many people want to help the project.

This year we entered what will be our last funded year as part of our current National Lottery Heritage Fund Project. Because of this we were determined to continue the conservation effort and to keep creating habitat to help the local Turtle Dove population survive. To help resource planned future work and to generally raise awareness of Turtle Dove conservation we decided to launch an autumn of fund raising.

So – how could artists, celebrities and a couple of cyclists help Turtle Doves?

The major art theme grew out of a donation from international wildlife artist Alan Hunt who lives in North Yorkshire. Alan donated two beautiful pieces of original art to the project.

Alan’s art along with other pieces were displayed at two venues in October (Danby and Dalby) ahead of an auction of the art works. This was a big success attracting a wide range of artists from sculptors such as Jennifer Tetlow to a local poet Tiffany Francis.

Alongside the formal art auction was our unique ‘Doodle a Dove’ celebrity auction. This was run by the local Forestry England’s Funding & Development Manager Petra Young, following on from her Scribble a Squirrel project in Scotland back in the 1990s. Over 30 doodles of Turtle Doves were donated with a crazy range of images by famous people including Bill Oddie, Chris Packham, Lolo Williams, Derek Jacobi, Sophie Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Miriam Margolyes, Lily Cole and many more.

Then up popped fellow Birders Jonny Rankin (RSPB Dove Step fundraising hero) and Nick Moran (BTO) who said “How about we cycle from Thetford to Spurn and raise £3,000 for your project?”. So naturally I said a big yes please! And they did it in September, arriving at Spurn at the start of the iconic Spurn Migration Festival.

The total raised for future Turtle Dove work in North Yorkshire currently stands at £8,000. All of the funds will be spent on conservation one way or another, such as the creation of tailor made wild flower plots, pond restoration or scrub creation.

Our year was rounded off in style with news that our project had won the platinum award for the best conservation project at this year’s UK National Parks Conference. We could not have won this award without the amazing efforts of many people from survey volunteers to farmers with habitat space. We were highly commended on the international links achieved through the project such as Bird International’s Flyways Initiatives.

Turtle Dove Auction Artists, along with Petra and Richard (holding the Award). Copyright NYMNPA.

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project logo

In the Zone

Aside

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project area is now considered a Turtle Dove Friendly Zone. These zones form a loose association of areas in England where Operation Turtle Dove is in action. Here’s a link to a recent Operation Turtle Dove blog post with a bit more info on what’s going on across the different zones including ours.

Happy Birthday

Mark Antcliff – Woodland Officer, and Rachel Pickering – Natural Environment Team Leader

Forestry Commission England owns/manages considerable land holdings within and around the North York Moors and therefore has had and continues to have a major impact on the landscape and the natural and historic environment of the area.

This year the Forestry Commission is marking its centenary. Timber was a crucial resource in the First World War, relying on imports meant vulnerability and risk. Afterwards the amount of land producing timber in Britain was down to 4%, so the 1919 Forestry Act was passed setting up the original Forestry Commission to plant and manage public woodland and to assist private woodland. The Commission was to drive organised afforestation in order to build up a secure timber reserve.

Ever since then the objectives and priorities of the Commission have adapted to changing governmental policy and shifting environmental and social concerns. Its current mission is increasing the value of woodlands to society and the environment, the majority of its current holdings are mixed multi-purpose forests. As of 2018 10% of Britain is woodland cover.

Ingleby Greenhow Forest in summer. Copyright NYMNPA.

Boltby Forest in autumn. Copyright NYMNPA.

In the North York Moors…

Woodlands cover 22% of the North York Moors National Park and Forestry England (previously known as Forest Enterprise and part of the Forestry Commission) manages 60% of these. So understandably we like to work closely together to achieve the best for both organisations. We do loads of great conservation projects together and here are a few:

Ancient Woodland Restoration
Forestry England manage approximately 45% of the National Park’s Ancient Woodland Sites which have been planted with conifers since World War 2 (known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites – PAWS). They are committed to restoring these sites back to nature-filled native woodland and we help to ensure that this can happen in a timely fashion through our comments on their individual Forest Design Plans which direct forestry management based on the qualities of the different forests. On difficult sites funding can be given through partnership projects like This Exploited Land of Iron to avoid delays and help facilitate management.

Thinning of conifers in Wass Moors and Pry Rigg Forest. Copyright NYMNPA.

Veteran Trees
Forestry England manages a hugely important area of veteran trees at the Deer Park near Helmsley. The National Park Authority and Natural England work together with volunteers to help monitor and manage these amazing natural ancient monuments which support populations of insects, fungi and bats.

One of the Veteran Trees in the Deer Park. Copyright NYMNPA.

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project
Volunteers survey forest and farmland for these critically endangered birds and this partnership project will raise awareness at both organisations’ Visitor Centres (Dalby and Sutton Bank) as well as providing more flower seeds and water in key locations. The forests in the south east corner are particularly important for these birds.

Beaver Trial
The National Park have given Forestry England £20,000 towards the setting up and monitoring costs of their exciting Beaver Release Trial in Cropton Forest which will be underway shortly. It will be fascinating to see how much impact the beavers can have on the management of water with the forest.

Ancient semi-natural woodland at Howlgate Head. Copyright NYMNPA.

So Happy Birthday to our friends in Forestry England and the Forestry Commission who are celebrating their 100 years. To celebrate the centenary a new artwork was commissioned – the Nissan Hut by Rachel Whiteread is situated within our own Dalby Forest.

Rachel Whiteread's Nissen Hut (2018) copyright Ben Thomas, Forestry Commission. From www.theartnewspaper.com

If you want to find out more about each element of the Forestry Commission, have a look at these links:
Forestry Commission England
Forestry England
Forest Research

The Madness and Delight of a North Yorkshire forest at dawn   

Getting up at 3am to start a bird survey at dawn deep in the North Yorkshire countryside may seem like madness to many people but for Ginny the delight has been far greater than the sacrifice…

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project logo

Ginny Leeming, Turtle Dove Volunteer

A few years ago I was walking in Broxa Forest when I became aware of a strange low bubbling, turring sound. For a minute I just couldn’t place it – perhaps a frog? Then it clicked – I hadn’t heard it for years but it had once been so familiar to me. I went home and looked up some facts and figures and was horrified (though not entirely surprised) to learn of the drastic fall in numbers of a bird that was once so well known (and still is widely known by name if only through the 12 Days of Christmas). So when I heard about the Turtle Dove Project I was immediately keen to get involved. OK, so getting up at 3am to be in the forest ready to start a survey at dawn is somewhat daunting, and I even felt a bit nervous at the thought of walking through the forest in semi-darkness. But once up it is a truly magical time to be out there. I’ve had close encounters with badgers, deer, hares and much other wildlife.

On my very first survey I was nearing the end, almost resigned to a negative result, when I approached a clearing and before I could see through the trees I heard that unique sound. It turned out to be 3 singing males. I really had to stop myself shrieking with delight! Since then I’ve had less luck, but the memory of that moment has helped to maintain my feeling of anticipation. It has also been really encouraging to know that the data from that first survey has already been used to target conservation measures on local farms. Perhaps in a few more years encounters with these iconic birds will become more common.
A North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Volunteer in Action. Copyright NYMNPA.
Our North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project surveys start again in May. We will be holding two meetings this spring to explain the surveys and to allow volunteers to meet up. One meeting will be in the Dalby Forest Courtyard Building (YO18 7LT) on 24 April at 7 pm and the second at the Yorkshire Arboretum (YO60 7BY) in the Howardian Hills on 2 May, again at 7 pm. If you’d like to get involved please come along or alternatively email Richard Baines, Turtle Dove Project Officer.

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project partnership logos

 

Sowing the Seeds of Recovery

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

There are few more rewarding things in life than creating new habitat for wildlife and then watching with delight as birds and other animals move in.

What would make it extra special would be hearing a Turtle Dove sing its beautiful purring song.

Turtle dove courtship at Sutton Bank NYMNP Visitor Centre May 2015 by Richard Bennet, North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project

A major part of our HLF funded North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project involves working with land managers to create exactly the right feeding opportunities for Turtle Doves. The National Park and the Project have a brand new grant aimed at providing flower rich plots from which Turtle Doves can feed on a natural seed source.

We are really pleased that this autumn 11 farm businesses have established 17 Turtle Dove flower plots covering a total of five hectares within our project area. This is a great start and it’s very exciting that so many land managers are keen to help; however we need many more if we are going to have a chance of making a difference.

The pioneering 11 includes a wide range of landowners and tenants such as our first community Turtle Dove reserve in Sawdon village sown by the local community and primary school, Ampleforth Plus Social Enterprise, the Danby Moors Farming and Wykeham Farm businesses, and Hanson Quarry near Wykeham.

Sawdon Community Group, with Richard on the right - celebrating the first community Turtle Dove plot with a mug of tea!. Copyright NYMNPA.

The sown plots are needed because many of the wild flowers that provide seed such as Common Fumitory and Birds-foot Trefoil are no longer common in the arable landscape which is one of the major reasons Turtle Doves are now at risk of extinction. The plots will also support a range of other scarce arable plants such as the locally rare Shepherd’s Needle. We are working with the local Cornfield Flowers Project – Into the Community to make sure we provide available ground for many naturally occurring but declining local flowers.

Common Fumitory - showing the seeds which Turtle Doves feed on. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

These new plots will not only provide habitat for Turtle Doves they will also provide valuable for a whole range of declining farmland birds. Grey Partridge feed their chicks on invertebrates and need open fallow land rich in small insects. Our flower plots are sown at a very light sowing rate to leave a good proportion of the plot shallow which allows access for Partridge and other birds such as Yellowhammers searching for insects in the summer.

If you have arable or temporary grassland on your farm and you would like to help Turtle Doves please get in touch to find out more about the grant and payments on offer. Contact us or call the National Park’s Conservation Department 01439 772700.

Scrub, scub, glorious scub

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

If you are a farmland bird – such as a Turtle Dove or a Song Thrush, looking to protect your nest from predators and other disturbance – where should you nest? If you have any sense you will be looking for a dense patch of protective scrub or a large hedge (slightly more organised scrub) safe from dangerous raptor talons or avaricious eyes.

Unfortunately this type of vegetation containing older stands of Hawthorn and Blackthorn is becoming increasingly rare in the countryside due to creeping development, agricultural intensification and ‘tidying up’. Scrub can often be assumed to be a problem which needs to be removed. It has been an undervalued habitat in many conservation schemes over the years with other more showy habitats taking precedent.

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project is wanting to improve the appreciation of this fantastic habitat.

Scrub is very important for Turtle Doves. Their delicate nests are often built within 2 metres of the ground in a dense tangle of thorns and twigs. They need this structure to reach the ground to feed. Stock grazing under such a habitat can remove any value to many birds such as Turtle Doves. In the winter scrub is a fantastic habitat for roosting birds such as Long-eared Owls. These magnificent birds are also looking for protection from disturbance and somewhere to have a daytime nap.

Last week we started work on our first community reserve for Turtle Doves at Sawdon near Scarborough. We were out with the Sawdon Community Nature Reserve Group and a very hard working Community Payback team. We planted a mixture of Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Hazel to create a thicket of scrub for the future. Luckily the planting day was sunny and warm with many birds singing in the trees around us. Amongst the appreciative audience were Song Thrush, Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammers who will all be able to benefit from the effort made to increase their local nesting habitat. Future plans for this site include pond restoration and a Turtle Dove flower meadow.

Creating our first community reserve for Turtle Doves - at Sawdon. Copyright NYMNPA.

Richard and Katie, helping to create our first community reserve for Turtle Doves - Yederick Spinney, Sawdon. Copyright NYMNPA.

A Date with a Dove

Richard Baines – North York Moors National Park Turtle Dove Officer

Was Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, a birdwatcher? As she sat about looking pretty with doves fluttering around her feet maybe she wondered when Turtle Doves would arrive back in Yorkshire from Africa that year!

Valentine’s Day has long been associated with doves, specifically Turtle Doves, and true love. This may have a link with science. Turtle Doves have been known to have a preference for monogamous partnerships; their strong connection is played out during their beautiful display when they first arrive back on their breeding grounds. The male will sing his soft purring song then fly up above the trees, fan his black and white tail and glide effortlessly down, making sure the female is watching!

Turtle Doves at Sutton Bank, 2015 - copyright Richard Bennett

Turtle Doves at Sutton Bank, 2015 - copyright Richard Bennett These photographs – kindly donated to our project by local photographer Richard Bennett – illustrate the wonderful care and attention Turtle Doves put into their post breeding courtship whether they are with the same mate as the previous year (or trying to woo a new one…. )

Sketches of Turtle Dove by Jonathan Pomroy

In the past few months I have had lots of requests from organisations in Yorkshire to talk on the National Lottery funded North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project. Happy to oblige, here are some up-coming evening talks over the next few months. Please note romance is not guaranteed but lots of interesting facts and enthusiasm are.

22 February 2018 Newton-on-Rawcliffe Parish Council Newton-on-Rawcliffe Village Hall Starting 19:30
5 March 2018 Malton & Norton Green Drinks Malton Blue Ball Inn Starting 20:00
7 March 2018 Levisham with Lockton WI Lockton Village Hall Starting 19:30
4 April 2018 North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Dalby Forest Visitor Centre Starting 19:00
17 April 2018 Ryedale Natural History Society Kirkbymoorside Methodist Hall Starting 19:30
19 April 2018 North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project Yorkshire Arboretum Starting 19:00
24 April 2018 East Yorkshire RSPB Group North Bridlington Library Starting 19:30

Talking about Turtle Doves

Richard Baines – Turtle Dove Project Officer

Our Turtle Doves are now in Africa, but that doesn’t mean our work stops.

Turtle dove courtship at Sutton Bank NYMNP Visitor Centre May 2015 by Richard Bennet, North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project

With the majority of results now in for our two formal survey areas (Cropton and Dalby Forests), along with many additional sightings logged this year, we can now announce our results. In 2017 a total of 244 birds were logged over 78 dates between the first seen on 17 April and the last record of one on 25 September near Pickering. Over both the 2016 and 2017 survey seasons we recorded 24 singing males in Cropton Forest. During our 2017 surveys in Dalby Forest we found 12 singing males. Our largest flock was 13 birds including juveniles recorded on 25 July 2017.

These results illustrate how important our area is for these endangered birds. In comparison there were very few sightings in the rest of Yorkshire this year and even fewer to the north of us. We have known for some time our area has been a stronghold for this species due to the committed work of many individual birdwatchers and the local Forest Bird Study Group. However this is the first time Turtle Doves have been surveyed as a single species in the north of England. We would not have been able to achieve these detailed results without the hard work of our volunteer surveyors. I started this project as a volunteer myself, keen to help these beautiful birds and I hoped other people would feel the same. Thankfully a small army have now joined the Turtle Dove brigade! Here’s a quote from George Day, one of our volunteer surveyors this year; “Being part of such an exciting project has been fantastic. It’s been a real treat to spend dawn in the forest with purring Turtle Doves”.

Carrying out these surveys can be fun in themselves, but we are often asked what happens to the data collected and is there a direct benefit to Turtle Doves? Within the first six months of this project the data collected by volunteers so far has been used to identify and target the best areas to set up new feeding sites and attempt to improve nesting habitat. I can now visit a farm, explain to the land manager how important their land is for Turtle Doves based on how many birds are nearby. This makes a huge difference to the delivery of the project.

Richard presenting to an end of term meeting of Turtle Dove volunteers, Dalby Visitor Centre 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

We’re working hard to spread the word and plan sites for new and improved habitat to create in 2018. I have a Heritage Lottery Fund target to deliver 40 talks to groups in the three years of the project and I’m pleased to be on course to complete 20 by the end of the first year! It seems a lot of people want to learn about and help these iconic birds. From a small village community in Sawdon to a national Forestry Commission conference the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove roadshow is purring its way around our beautiful county and beyond….

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project logo

North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project partner logos