Turtle dove

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What is the Turtle dove?

The turtle dove is the UK’s fastest declining bird species and is on the brink of extinction. It is a small pigeon, smaller and darker than the collared dove and slightly larger than a blackbird. Its upperparts are distinctively mottled with chestnut and black and its black tail has a white edge.

Turtle doves are summer visitors to the UK and their gentle purring song is an evocative sound of summer.  They arrive from sub-Saharan Africa in late April and May to breed in hedgerows, woodland edges and open land with scattered bushes. They feed on cereals and wildflower seeds.


Why is the Turtle dove important to the Surrey Hills?

The turtle dove is a red-listed species, protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). It is a UK Priority Species for conservation and is restricted mainly to southern and eastern England. UK numbers have declined by 94% since 1995, causes of which include the intensification of agriculture leading to a lack of seed and grain during the breeding season, as well as unsustainable levels of hunting on migration.

What habitat does the Turtle dove like?


Hedgerows are important both as landscape features and as wildlife habitat across lowland Britain, especially when associated with features such as grassy field margins. Classic hedges are linear, shrubby, mostly continuous features though hedges which have developed into lines of trees retain landscape value and some wildlife value. Over 600 plant species, 1,500 insects, 65 birds and 20 mammals have been recorded at some time living or feeding in hedges and they are especially important for butterflies and moths, farmland birds, bats and dormice. They also play a crucial role in landscape connectivity, linking up other areas of habitat so that wildlife can move more freely across the farmed landscape.

The presence of turtle doves indicates a healthy hedgerow habitat.

What can be done to benefit the Turtle dove?

Good hedgerow management for the turtle dove will create/result in tall hedges which provide nesting habitat close to good feeding habitat such as flower-rich field margins. This management will benefit many other seed-eating species, including finches such as greenfinches, goldfinches and yellowhammers and small mammals such as harvest mice.


Opportunities to create/improve/extend suitable habitat for this species include:
  • Restoring overgrown/neglected hedgerows by hedge-laying or coppicing and planting up gaps
  • Extending the hedge management cycle to allow hedges to grow taller and wider, and hedgerow fruits and berries to ripen
  • Planting new hedgerows, including hawthorn or blackthorn in the shrub species mix
  • Encouraging the growth of native climbers in the hedgerows
  • Planting hedgerow trees
  • Floristically enhancing associated field margins and sowing nectar flower mixes to increase seed provision
Creating and managing areas for the Turtle dove will help deliver the following benefits to communities:
  • Clean water
  • Clean air
  • Protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards
  • Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
  • Beauty, heritage and engagement

These illustrations are by an artist taking part in a programme delivered by Watts Gallery Trust and funded by the Michael Varah Memorial Fund. This series of 30 Surrey Hills Indicator Species were commissioned by Surrey Hills Society and funded by Surrey Hills Trust Fund as part of the Making Space for Nature Exhibition.