Second Day of Christmas – European Commission fights to save turtle doves

Streptopelia turtur, more colloquially known as the European turtle dove, has become a lasting symbol in a number of cultures over the centuries.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two turtle doves…

In ancient Greece, the European turtle dove was a bird considered sacred to Aphrodite, goddess of love and Demeter, goddess of seasons and agriculture. The Greeks even believed doves draw Aphrodite’s heavenly chariot.

The Bible contains numerous references to turtle doves and the way they form strong pair bonds, which has helped retain this image of them as emblems of love and devotion. Sadly, recent history has shown that turtle doves haven’t been shown much love, especially in Europe.

The population of turtle doves has declined as much as 78 per cent between 1980 and 2013 across Europe, and by 93 per cent in the UK since 1994. But help is at hand – the EU is taking countries to the courts, to protect this endangered species.

European Commission takes firm legal action

Amid reports about a dramatic decline in European turtle dove populations, the European Commission is taking legal action against no fewer than nine EU member states, for breaching nature laws aimed at helping conserve the bloc’s biodiversity.

The agricultural sector is in the Commission’s sights in particular, with accusations of malpractice by French and Spanish farmers. This comes, as the number of fallow fields, hedgerows and the loss of field margins reduced the number of safe places European turtle doves could nest in. With fewer safe places to nest, the pitter-patter of tiny turtle dove feet becomes far less likely over time.

Germany and Slovenia are also expected to face court action for allowing the destruction of grasslands which were supposed to be protected under the Habitats Directive. Turtle doves are also being actively chased to extinction by humans, as hunters often shoot them in a number of EU member states.

Add the loss of major food sources including weed seeds and wild flowers, and it’s no surprise turtle dove populations are dropping rapidly.

Protecting the turtle dove

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) estimates that there are as many as 14,000 territories across the UK which the turtle doves call home. As migratory birds, turtle doves are usually seen in the UK during the summer months, particularly on the South East coast. They are considered an ‘evocative sound of the summer’ for their distinctive purring sound.

The RSPB puts the turtle dove on the Red List of conservation concern, claiming that a loss of food sources including seeds and grain means that breeding seasons for this species are shorter, allowing less time for nesting, and fewer eggs to be laid.

To protect this endangered species, the RSPB and a number of organisations like them are actively fundraising to get conservation projects up and running. Only time will tell whether we can save them for many future Christmases.

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