The North York Moors – forged by nature, shaped by generations. Come and explore our National Park – 554 square miles of secluded dales, magical moors, ancient woodland, historic sites and 26 miles of stunning coastline, all easily reached from York, Teesside and County Durham. Read about our work here, and then pay us a visit!
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…
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…. )
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.
Our Turtle Doves are now in Africa, but that doesn’t mean our work stops.
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.
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….