Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) - Species Action Plan

Ref 2/S13 Species Action Plan 13
Plan Author: RSPB
Plan Co-ordinator: Farmland BAP Topic Group
Plan Leader: RSPB
Final Draft January 2006

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • The turtle dove is a summer migrant that breeds at the northern edge of its range in the UK. It is confined largely to the south and east of England and is associated with fertile arable farmland in warm, dry situations.
  • The population was at a high at the time of the first breeding atlas (1968-72). However, the Common Bird Census index has indicated a fall of around 60% in the population since this time, and the new breeding atlas (1988-91) shows a marked decrease in range of around 25%. The latest population estimate, taken from the new atlas, is approximately 75,000 territories. More information about trends in both distribution and numbers can be found at www.bto.org/birdtrends.
  • The turtle dove is declining in many parts of Europe although it is still common and widespread in the lowlands of central and southern Europe. It generally occurs below 350 m in a variety of fairly dry, sunny, sheltered habitats.
  • The turtle dove is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. It is a traditional quarry species in Mediterranean countries and, as such, is listed on Annex II of the EC Birds Directive. 

Norfolk Status

  • Widespread (recorded in 81% of tetrads between 1980 and 1985) but has undoubtedly declined in range and population since in line with national trend.
  • Core areas for the species in Norfolk are the Brecks, north west, mid and central Norfolk and the Fens (RSPB/EN/BTO/Defra Farmland Bird Database).

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Current factors affecting the habitat in Norfolk

  • The decline of the turtle dove has occurred at the same time as decreases in the numbers and/or range of other farmland birds which share its diet of grass and weed seeds. Research suggests that the decline is due, at least in part, to an overall degradation of habitat quality, including the loss of tall, overgrown thorny hedges and suitable seed food.
  • Compared to the 1960s, turtle doves today have a shorter breeding season and produce approximately half the number of clutches and young per pair than formerly.
  • Turtle doves nest in large hedges and mature scrub, and also retreat to the safety of this dense vegetation when disturbed. The loss of features such as overgrown hedgerows and hawthorn thickets on farmland is likely to have had an adverse effect on the population.
  • As a long-distance migrant, the turtle dove faces threats, particularly from hunting, outside the UK. It is heavily shot in France and the Iberian peninsula. Tens of thousands of birds are also shot in their wintering areas, mainly Senegal, and many more are killed on migration through Morocco. It is therefore possible that some factors contributing towards the species decline lie outside the UK.
  • Little is known of the effects of habitat or climatic changes in the wintering grounds of the species. Turtle doves spend part of the year, particularly February and March, in acacia scrub in the Sahel region, and recent drought conditions and habitat destruction there have coincided with a steep decline in numbers.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • Little direct conservation work has been carried out specifically for turtle doves in Norfolk.
  • Rotational set-aside will have benefited the species, although this has been significantly reduced in area in recent years.
  • Turtle dove has been targeted by the arable options in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, encouraging the growth of spring-sown cereals and conservation headlands.
  • The Environmental Stewardship schemes will continue to provide management options that will be promoted and targeted in support of this species.
  • Hedge management and two metre field margins will be required under the cross compliance regulations from July 2005. These are likely to benefit turtle dove.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • In the short term, halt or reverse the decline in numbers of the turtle dove by the year 2003 so that the Breeding Bird Survey index is at least at 1996 levels.
  • In the long term, see a sustained recovery in numbers so that the BBS index is at least 50% higher than 1996 levels by 2008. 


  • Maintain the current distribution of turtle dove in Norfolk and by 2010 restore to any parts of the county that have lost breeding turtle dove since 1986.

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