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Festive gift of turtle dove photo carries an important conservation message

Chris Knights' photograph of two turtle doves, taken in Colin and Janet Baldwin's garden in East Bilney.

Chris Knights' photograph of two turtle doves, taken in Colin and Janet Baldwin's garden in East Bilney.

Chris Knights

A wildlife photographer has presented an amateur bird enthusiast with a framed copy of the turtle dove image he captured in her Norfolk garden - where she has created an important food source for the threatened species.

Wildlife photographer Chris Knights (second left) presents his photograph to Janet Baldwin, in the garden where she feeds endangered turtle doves. Also pictured are her husband Colin Baldwin (far left) and conservationist Bill Makins (far right). Picture: Chris HillWildlife photographer Chris Knights (second left) presents his photograph to Janet Baldwin, in the garden where she feeds endangered turtle doves. Also pictured are her husband Colin Baldwin (far left) and conservationist Bill Makins (far right). Picture: Chris Hill

“Two turtle doves” – it’s a well-known line from a Christmas song, but a rare sight in Norfolk.

So this picture of a pair of the threatened birds is a cause for celebration, as it represents an important lifeline in their survival struggle.

Wildlife photographer Chris Knights presented Janet Baldwin with a framed print of the image he captured in her front garden in East Bilney, where her efforts to feed the species attracted as many as 16 birds at once – despite its unlikely conservation setting.

The garden sits alongside the busy driveway which brings dozens of cars and vans every day to East Bilney Coachworks, the vehicle repair centre founded by her husband Colin, which employs 200 people at six sites across the county.

Conservationists said the feeding success proved how important domestic and business settings could be in providing food for the birds in April and early May, when they migrate back from their winter homes in Africa.

Mr Knights said: “All gardens are nature reserves, to a point, because they have all got their resident birds. But I have never seen this many turtle doves before in a domestic or a business setting.

“It is like a restaurant for them. Turtle doves come here because there is food here.

“One of the reasons they have been in decline is because there are no seeds for them to feed on at the end of April and early May.

“Farming is 100pc efficient now, so the food is not there for the turtle dove when they come back to East Anglia. There always used to be little margins and edges and farmyards where the birds could find seed. Also villagers all used to keep chickens, but there are very few chickens in the open being fed now, which means there are no leftovers for turtle doves.”

His friend and fellow conservation enthusiast Bill Makins, who founded the nature reserve at Pensthorpe in the 1980s, said: “It shows how hungry they are in April, and why it is essential that the birds are fed at that time of year. This is the last place you would expect to find turtle doves, which are the top of the heap when it comes to endangered farmland birds.

Mrs Baldwin said: “I put out normal wild bird food and sunflower hearts, which they love. I do that every day from the end of April.

“They won’t go on the bird tables or the feeders, so we have to put the food on the ground. They make a beautiful sound, and they are right outside the kitchen window.

“When I first started four years ago, we had three of them. The next year it was five or six, and all of a sudden last year we had no end – I counted 16 all at once. It is quite addictive. We keep putting the food out, and more and more of them come.”

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