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North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project

Turtle Doves by Richard BennettTurtle Doves by Richard Bennett

The beautiful Turtle Dove is our smallest European dove. This tiny power house of a bird flies 11,200 km to reach North Yorkshire from Mali in Africa each spring.

Unfortunately Turtle Doves are in big trouble; their population has declined in both the UK and Europe to such an extent there may now be fewer than 100 birds nesting in the whole of Yorkshire. Only 50 years ago it was classed as a fairly common bird.

Why are Turtle Doves in trouble?

Turtle Doves are no different from many other birds; they need food, shelter and water. However changes in land management practices means there are fewer places they can find the tiny native seeds they prefer to feed on. They like to nest in large scrubby hedges or young conifer plantations. Ponds are essential too; these provide a good supply of drinking water. Their decline may have been worsened by hunting in southern Europe as they migrate in spring.

Watch the project film about why these fabulous birds are so important, following the dedicated work of Richard Baines, our Turtle Dove Project Officer, to save the UK’s fastest declining bird.

How can you help?

Turtle Doves by Richard BennettIf you have a farm or are in control of land, you might have areas which could be managed to improve feeding and/or habitat for the birds. Turtle Doves love feeding on native seed from autumn sown pollen and nectar mix, flower rich arable field margins or wild flower grasslands. Helping to increase these areas of habitat will also restore the vibrant colour to our local countryside.

If you see or hear a Turtle Dove in or close to the National Park or Howardian Hills please email us at with a date, location (6 figure grid ref or postcode if possible), number and activity of the bird/s. This will help us to continue to monitor the population.

For further information see our leaflet about Turtle Doves and the Project.

Only Two Turtle Doves? An urgent quest to save our summer visitor

This was a specific project (2017 - 2020) funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund, North York Moors National Park, Forestry Commission and Howardian Hills AONB, in partnership with RSPB, Scarborough Borough Council, and North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre, aims to help these birds. It focused on where Turtle Doves have been recorded recently, principally around the forests of the southern fringe of the North York Moors National Park. The project aims were to:

  1. Provide advice, training, support and small-scale capital work.
  2. Train keen farmers about Turtle Dove conservation so that they can spread the word amongst the farming community.
  3. Recruit volunteers to conduct surveys.
  4. Deliver talks and guided walks for local residents, schools and community groups.
  5. Create publicity and display material at key locations such as the Sutton Bank National Park Centre and the Dalby Forest Visitor Centre.

Now this specific project is over, the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove overall project continues - led by volunteers.


We have completed a project report covering four years of surveys. Please have a read of the full Survey and Conservation Report 2016 - 2019. You can also find out about the 2020 surveys on our Conservation blog.

We are hoping to start the full suite of North Yorkshire Turtle Dove surveys this spring 2021. We will shortly be announcing the dates for our annual April volunteer meetings. These will be done at one of our regular venues or if necessary, virtually. It's really important that we keep up these surveys and work equally hard on improving habitat for Turtle Doves in our area. If you are new to our project and would like to volunteer, please email us at


Autumn 2020

Summer 2020

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