Bird of love takes a nose dive

For romantics everywhere the turtle dove is a potent symbol of undying love.But now the bird could be about to disappear from the UK as its population continues to plunge, even in its former stronghold of East Anglia.

For romantics everywhere the turtle dove is a potent symbol of undying love.

But now the bird could be about to disappear from the UK as its population continues to plunge, even in its former stronghold of East Anglia.

An annual snapshot of the state of the nation's bird population issued today shows the dove is one of 11 endangered bird species fast vanishing from our shores.

The joint Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) - administered by the Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology - paints a picture of looming UK extinction for birds such as the turtle tove and willow tit, tempered by the recovery of species such as the tree sparrow and reed bunting.

A total of 2,600 volunteer birdwatchers counted more than one million birds on 3,295 one kilometre squares throughout the UK during summer last year.

Since the survey started in 1994, of the 16 widespread UK bird species on the population red list 11 have been found to have declined significantly, while four have increased noticeably.

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Those birds whose numbers are in freefall are the willow tit down 69pc, turtle dove down 61pc, corn bunting down 39pc, grey partridge down 37pc, spotted flycatcher down 29pc, bullfinch down 28pc, starling down 27pc, linnet down 24pc, yellowhammer down 16pc, skylark down 15pc and house sparrow down 6pc.

National organiser for the BBS Mike Raven said: "It is certainly within the realms of possibility that the turtle dove and some of these other red-listed species will die out in the UK.

"Norfolk has always been a stronghold for turtle doves but there has been quite a large drop in their numbers in a very short space of time.

"They used to produce two breeds a year at one time but they certainly do not any more - they produce barely half the number of clutches and young that they did in the 1960s.

"The number of breeding pairs now stands at about 40,000, that might sound like a lot but there are examples like the red-backed shrike that used to be regular breeders here but are now effectively extinct."

He said some of the decline could be attributed to the loss of weed borders on UK fields where turtle doves feed but also to hunting in other countries as it migrates to Britain from its wintering grounds south of the Sahara Desert.

More positive were the signs of recovery among the tree sparrow, up 97pc since 1994, grasshopper warbler up 49pc, reed bunting up 39pc and the song thrush up 17pc.

Mr Raven said that these birds are reaping the benefits of government funded agri-environment schemes, which pay farmers to change practices to create habitats through methods such as leaving weed borders on field edges.

The survey was a joint project between the BTO, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

To volunteer to be involved in the Breeding Bird Survey, contact the BTO on 01842 750050. View the full report at www.bto.org/bbs/results/BBSreport06.pdf

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