Ernie Janes (rspb-images.com)
FARMING FOR BIRDS IN WALES
The turtle dove is much more rufous (reddy-brown) on the back and wings than other doves, and has a distinctive black tail with a white edge seen in flight.
In Wales, the turtle dove is now mainly
confined to a small part of Gwent where
just five or six pairs remain. It used to be
widespread throughout Wales as recently
as the 1970s. Throughout the UK, the
population has fallen by 70% since 1970*,
probably because fewer seed sources are
available to them on farmland. The turtle
dove is a summer visitor to the UK,
arriving in late April and leaving at the
end of August. In Wales, the turtle dove
is found in young conifer plantations and
on arable and mixed farmland with
suitable nesting habitat.
*Data source: British Trust for Ornithology
WHAT DO TURTLE DOVES NEED?
A continuous supply of weed
and crop seed from late April
until the end of August
Both adult and chick turtle doves are
dependent on the availability of seeds,
especially those of fumitory, knotgrass,
chickweed, oilseed rape and cereal grains.
They feed on the ground in weedy areas
(especially where the vegetation is short and
sparse), on spilt grain and in stubble after
harvest. Seed food availability is probably the
main factor limiting breeding success.
Tall mature hedgerows, areas of
scrub, young conifer plantation or
woodland edges with a thick shrub
layer for nesting
The remaining Welsh population nests in
young conifer plantations, but they will
also nest in hedgerows or scrub over four
metres tall. They prefer thorny species
such as hawthorn, and nests are often
associated with climbers such as
traveller’s-joy (wild clematis),
honeysuckle or bramble.
HOW CAN I ENCOURAGE TURTLE DOVES?
LEAVE AN UNCROPPED FALLOW
Choose field margins with a variety of broadleaved
arable plants that are not highly
competitive with the crop. Cultivate the margin
each year, but leave it undrilled, unfertilised
and unsprayed to create a seed source for
ESTABLISH A WILDLIFE COVER CROP (WILD
This is a good way of introducing seed-rich
habitat to a grassland system.
You can create small plots (eg one acre) of
wildlife cover crop using a biennial mix of
seed-bearing plants such as kale, cereal and
quinoa. For turtle doves, ensure that there are
at least two plots created in alternate years so
that some seed is available in the spring every
year. Use a low seed rate to create an open
crop that gives them access to the ground and
allows some weeds to germinate and seed.
GROW UNSPRAYED SPRING CEREAL CROPS
This can be applied either to whole fields or to
Insecticides remove beneficial insects and
spiders that move into the crops in the spring.
Herbicides remove broad-leaved weeds that
provide seed food. The loss of this food source
is particularly damaging to turtle doves.
If it is not viable to leave entire crops
use pesticides only when the infestation
exceeds the economic threshold
try to avoid using broad-spectrum
insecticides after 15 March
adopt conservation headlands by not spraying
the outer six metres of cereal fields with
insecticides or herbicides targeted at broadleaved
weeds. You can get agronomic advice
from the Game Conservancy Trust.
INTRODUCE ARABLE HABITATS TO
Introduce arable fodder crops, eg unsprayed
root crops such as swedes. Maize is not
suitable for turtle doves. Alternatively,
create small plots of wildlife cover crop (see
above) to provide a seed-rich habitat in
Encourage the development of thick, tall
hedges (4 m+ tall by 2 m+ wide). Fence to
prevent grazing, and plant scrub-forming
shrubs such as hawthorn or blackthorn.
Lightly trim the hedge every 2–3 years,
cutting alternate sides each year.
ENCOURAGE SCRUB ALONG THE FIELD EDGE
Encourage the development of thick scrub
alongside hedges, in field corners and along
woodland edges. In grazed situations this
may require fencing.
MAINTAIN OR CREATE LOW-INTENSITY
Wherever there are species-rich meadows that
can be restored to hay meadow management,
these will boost food for turtle doves on
IN CONIFER PLANTATIONS
In and around pre-thicket stage forestry,
create a mosaic containing broad-leaved
scrub, eg birch and hawthorn, to provide nest
sites, open weedy ground to provide a source
of seed food and taller trees to provide song
perches and loafing sites.
Create a wildlife cover crop (see above).
Natural regeneration of rotational set-aside
provides a useful seed source, provided that
management can be delayed until July.
The multi-annual set-aside scheme can be
used to cultivate an area of non-rotational setaside
each year to allow broad-leaved weeds
to germinate and seed for turtle doves.
Choose an area with a diverse broad-leaved
weed flora, but with low numbers of the
highly competitive grass weeds and cleavers.
Ensure that there is some
seed food available
throughout the spring and
Maintain tall thick
hedgerows and areas of
scrub on the farm and
allow the shrub layer to
develop along woodland
In conifer plantations,
create open weedy ground
within and around prethicket
Many of these guidelines may be funded
by agri-environment schemes.
For further information, contact:
Farming Connect, Y Lanfa, Trefechan,
Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 1AS.
Tel: 08456 000813
RSPB regd charity no 207076
Line drawing by M Langman
Advisory Officer, The RSPB,
North Wales Office, Maes y
Ffynnon, Penrhosgarnedd, Bangor,
Gwynedd LL57 2DW
Tel: 01248 363800
Countryside Council for Wales,
Maes y Ffynnon, Penrhosgarnedd,
Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DW
Tel: 01248 385500
Farming and Wildlife Advisory
Group Cymru, Ffordd Arran,
Dolgellau, Gwynedd LL40 1LW
Tel: 01341 421456
The Game Conservancy
Hampshire SP6 1EF.
Tel: 01425 652381