Mulbarton-based conservationist ready to help the turtle dove and other migrating birds

Turtle Dove. Andy Hay/RSPB Image Lib.

Turtle Dove. Andy Hay/RSPB Image Lib. - Credit: PA

They are a part of British folklore, appearing in the works of Shakespeare, The Canterbury Tales and The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Simon Tonkin

Simon Tonkin - Credit: Archant

Yet turtle doves face an uncertain future, with a rapid decline leading to predictions the farmland bird could become extinct within five years.

As part of an initiative to raise awareness of the bird's plight, and clamp down on the illegal killing of the birds in parts of the Mediterranean, a Norfolk conservationist is to travel to Israel as part of a pioneering project to protect their numbers.

Simon Tonkin, from Mulbarton –who works for Conservation Grade –will be part of a team of three conservationists competing against 23 groups from around the world at the annual Champions of the Flyway event held in southern Israel, in March.

The event, organised by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, will see the teams spend 24 hours counting as many migrating bird species as possible.

Although East Anglia remains a stronghold for the bird, for every 100 turtle doves that bred in the UK in 1970, today only four remain, and their numbers are still falling. While changes in farming methods are linked to the decline, illegal hunting of migrating birds across the Mediterranean is also affecting the numbers.

Mr Tonkin, 38, whose team is known as the Inglorious Bustards, said: 'We want to raise awareness of the illegal trapping of the birds and tell people this is going on. We'll also be raising money to help the local conservation organisations get better enforcement. It would be tragic if we lost the turtle dove. We can leave a legacy of being the generation who stopped the rapid decline.

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'The turtle dove's decline is alarming and it is as threatened as rhinos. It could face extinction not just in the UK but across Europe.

'Across the Mediterranean in countries like Greece they illegally trap 25 million birds as they try to migrate. They collect them for a delicacy.'

For more information about Champions of the Flyway visit http://www.champions-of-the-flyway.com/

To sponsor the Inglorious Bustards visit https://www.justgiving.com/IB16/

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