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Europe and Central Asia
22 Dec 2015

Second day of Christmas brings Turtle-doves to CEMEX quarries in the UK

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Turtle-dove is the UK's fastest-declining bird, now Vulnerable, and needs support from projects like this. Photo: Andy Hay
On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Turtle-dove is the UK's fastest-declining bird, now Vulnerable, and needs support from projects like this. Original photo: Andy Hay
By Shaun Hurrell

The second day of Christmas is December 26 and, as most carolers know, that's the day a true love will give the gift of two Turtle-doves. This year, a joint effort between CEMEX in the UK, Spain and in France along with BirdLife national Partners in a project to create much-needed nesting habitat along the bird’s flyway have achieved one better: three juvenile European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur have been observed at CEMEX quarries in the UK this year.

Turtle-dove seen at Salford Priors Quarry, UK. Photo: Neil Duggan

Sadly, the Turtle-dove was up-listed to Vulnerable globally in 2015 on the IUCN Red List by BirdLife (the Red List authority for birds). Nationally, their UK population is currently halving in number every six years making the Turtle-dove the UK’s fastest declining bird.

Knowing that there is a very real chance the Turtle-dove could be lost from the UK in the near future, in 2014 CEMEX and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK) embarked on a 3-year pilot conservation project at CEMEX quarries in central England.

This is supporting the work of Operation Turtle Dove – a partnership between the RSPB, Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, and Natural England. Together, they are identifying the primary causes of the decline, developing and delivering practical solutions for the species.

Though there are many factors thought to be behind the declines, the main contributor is thought to be the loss of suitable habitat and associated food shortages in their breeding grounds. With that in mind, the project involved growing a special flower mix on four of the project's quarries to provide the birds’ ideal food, complemented by the creation of suitable nesting habitat.

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Unlike other UK dove species, Turtle-dove rely upon seeds for food. Changes in farming practices have led to field margins and hedges, once rich with seed-bearing plants, being replaced by commercial crops – offering very few of the small seeds that they need. CEMEX quarries have the potential to support this threatened bird.

Southam Quarry habitat, UK. Photo: CEMEX

Now in the second year of the conservation project, CEMEX are surveying a total of ten CEMEX quarries in the UK twice each breeding season, using CEMEX staff and local volunteers.

We are delighted to report that Turtle-doves have been found at two of these quarries, including three juveniles, so it is very likely that they were born on a CEMEX site this year.

With support from RSPB’s conservation scientists, the intervention will be assessed to determine the effectiveness.

Rob Doody, CEMEX’s Director for Aggregate Operations, CEMEX UK said “This project is so important in saving this iconic bird.  It highlights the positive impact that we can make on the natural world. The balance between the natural and built environment is a delicate one which must be preserved not only for nature but future generations.”

Across borders

“Turtle-dove is a migratory species, so it is important that its conservation is continued along its flyway”, said Richard Grimmett, Director of Conservation, BirdLife International.“Many CEMEX quarries fall along the Turtle-dove's western European migration corridor and have the potential to support this threatened bird."

"This is the first project of its kind, working to save a globally threatened species on quarry operations across borders through multiple local collaborations.”

Encouraged by the success so far, CEMEX France has launched a pilot site at their Bouafles quarry. Here, actions scheduled to begin in 2016 include maintaining and creating dense hedges using local tree species. They will also fence-off certain areas accessible to the public so that the birds are not disturbed during the breeding season. Furthermore, they plan to devote plots to extensive cultivation favorable to Turtle-dove, using plants such as Arnoseris minima which grows well on the quarry’s sandy free-draining substrate.

Another Turtle-dove spotted at Salford Priors Quarry, UK. Photo: Neil DugganIn Spain, at Soto Pajares quarry where the CEMEX-BirdLife partnership are piloting a Biodiversity Action Plan, SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain) is working closely with CEMEX Spain to complete the conservation jigsaw across the birds’ Western-most migratory flyway.

Should the project prove successful, the project could be used as a best practice to scale up with other operators, right across the western European flyway – across potentially thousands of sites, helping to ensure Turtle-dove are not lost to extinction, nor from Christmas folklore.

“After all, what would the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ be without two Turtle-doves!” said Rob.


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.