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Bleak News for Turtle Doves

More than half of our Turtle Doves are missing…

Latest results from the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) reveal even bleaker news for Turtle Doves. Even though a record total of 2,600 birdwatchers took part in the Breeding Bird Survey last year, few could find Turtle Doves on their survey sites. Volunteer birdwatchers involved with the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey in the summer of 2006, counted more than one million birds on 3,295 1-km squares throughout the UK, recording 223 bird species. This year, there is good news for Reed Bunting, but bad news for our only migratory dove, the Turtle Dove. Some of our small-bodied resident birds were adversely affected by colder-than-normal weather during winter 2005/06. More details about these species are given below.The General Picture

*A record total of 2,647 birdwatchers surveyed 3,295 survey sites across the UK, from the Scilly Isles in the south to Shetland in the north. This record coverage enabled the scheme to monitor the changing numbers of 103 bird species, nearly half of those that regularly breed in the UK.

*The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is administered by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) from its headquarters in Thetford, Norfolk. Across the UK, voluntary Regional Organisers play a vital role in coordinating the efforts of local birdwatchers. Volunteer birdwatchers are assigned 1-km squares that they visit three times in the season. Having got up very early in the morning, each volunteer spends about two hours counting all the birds they see and hear along their chosen 2-km route.

*The BBS started in 1994. This carefully designed, yet simple survey has attracted many participants. The good level of coverage throughout the UK means that we are able to report separately on changes in bird populations in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and in the nine English Government Office Regions, as well as for the UK overall.

*Of sixteen widespread species that are red-listed in Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC), based on long-term population trends, eleven declined significantly on BBS squares between 1994 and 2006 (see Notes to Editors). Four red-listed species (Song Thrush, Grasshopper Warbler, Tree Sparrow and Reed Bunting) have increased significantly in the same time period.Reed Bunting - a sign of hope

Numbers of the red-listed Reed Bunting increased by 9% between 2005 and 2006 and are now up by 39% since 1994. This is a far cry from the situation thirty years ago when this species began a period of steep decline during which numbers more than halved between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s. In common with its close relative, the Yellowhammer, these declines were largely driven by reductions in winter seed food availability caused by agricultural intensification. Recent changes in land management encouraged by Government funded agri-environment schemes may now be benefiting this species, which gives us hope for other farmland species that have undergone similar declines in recent years.

Migratory dove in trouble.

Wood Pigeon and Collared Dove may be everywhere today, but Turtle Dove numbers have dropped by 61% in just 12 years. Not only has the Turtle Dove disappeared from many parts of the country, such as southwest and northern England, it has become increasingly hard to find in its arable stronghold of East Anglia. In common with many long-distance migrants, numbers returning to our shores each spring are heavily influenced by conditions on the wintering grounds in Sub-Saharan Africa and migratory routes. Hunting during this migration period and changes in agricultural practice at home may all be contributing to the decline. Reductions in the quantity of weed seeds during the breeding season have led to a much shorter period of time in which young doves can be raised.A brief return to colder winter temperatures causes a decline in small songbird numbers

Colder-than-average temperatures during the winter of 2005/06 (at least by our modern standards) led to a fall in the numbers of several small-bodied, resident bird species, such as Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Wren, Goldcrest, Stonechat and Grey Wagtail, between 2005 and 2006. Thankfully, these declines were modest in comparison with those experienced during the arctic winters of 1962/63 and the late-1970s and numbers will presumably recover quickly, given a successful breeding season and the warmer conditions in the winter of 2006/07.

Ring-necked Parakeet added to the list of common birds

Ring-necked Parakeets, a species that was only added to the British List in 1983, have increased to such an extent, that for the first time, we are able to monitor their changing numbers using the Breeding Bird Survey, a scheme which is designed to keep track of the population changes of our common and widespread breeding bird species. From its heartland in Surrey and Kent, the Ring-necked Parakeet has gradually spread westwards along the Thames Valley, and was recorded on 87 survey sites in 2006, compared to only four at the start of the survey in 1994. Numbers on these survey sites have increased more than four-fold over this period. The current UK population of Ring-necked Parakeets originates from birds that escaped from captivity. This gregarious and aggressive species competes with other hole-nesting birds that are native to the UK.Red-listed species

It is particularly important to monitor the fortunes of red-listed species of conservation concern. For eleven species, BBS results reveal declines between 1994 and 2006. For example:

Willow Tit -69%
Starling -27%
Turtle Dove -61%
Linnet -24%
Corn Bunting -39%
Yellowhammer -16%
Grey Partridge -37%
Skylark -15%
Spotted Flycatcher -29%
House Sparrow -6%
Bullfinch -28%

Four red-listed species increased over the period: 1994-2006.

Tree Sparrow 97%
Reed Bunting 39%
Grasshopper Warbler 49%
Song Thrush 17%

The full report can be viewed at: http://www.bto.org/bbs/results/BBSreport06.pdf - The results from the BBS are designed to monitor a wide-range of common birds across all habitats. The survey started in 1994 and has now replaced the long-running Common Birds Census, which was largely restricted to farmland and woodland habitats. The combined results from both schemes provide a unique monitoring system for the UK's common breeding birds. Changes in the status of breeding birds are used by Government in their headline indicator of sustainable development in the United Kingdom. This important survey is carried out by volunteer birdwatchers throughout the UK, who receive no financial reward or expenses for their efforts. We are indebted to them for their tremendous support.

4th July 2014