Maldon turtle dove conservation zone set up

Image source, RSPB
Image caption, In the past 20 years, the UK has lost more than 94% of its breeding turtle doves, according to the RSPB

A new conservation zone has been created to protect the turtle dove, one of Britain's fastest-declining birds.

The zone is being set up in Maldon, Essex, to help the species increase.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said in the past 20 years, the UK had lost more than 94% of its breeding turtle doves.

In the new zone, farmers, businesses and conservation organisations will work together to create the breeding and feeding habitats the birds need.

More than half the UK's remaining turtle doves breed in East Anglia, with "hotspots" in parts of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

Loss of food from the countryside was behind the species' decline, the RSPB said.

Turtle doves eat the fallen seeds of arable plants such as fumitory and knotgrass that are usually thought of as weeds.

These foods had become more scarce with the increased use of herbicides and the intensification of farming, the charity said.

As migrating birds, turtle doves also face threats and pressures outside the UK as they cross the Sahara Desert to survive the winter in Africa.

Image source, RSPB
Image caption, Grass and seeds, which turtle doves feed on, have been managed out over the last 20 years

Emma Stobart, RSPB and Operation Turtle Dove farm conservation officer, said: "Without urgent action the loss of turtle doves from the UK is a very real possibility."

Marc Outten, reserves manager for Essex Wildlife Trust, said turtle doves had visited a number of Essex reserves this year.

"These included a pair that successfully bred at Abbotts Hall Farm, home to our main offices, regular sightings from Fingringhoe Wick and Chigborough Lakes and a remarkable record of 14 birds spotted at Wrabness," he said.

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