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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.

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project 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 focuses on where Turtle Doves have been recorded recently, principally around the forests of the southern fringe of the North York Moors National Park.

What are the project aims?

  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.

We have just completed a project report covering four years of surveys (2016 - 2019). Please have a read of the full Survey and Conservation Report 2016 - 2019.

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, big or small and you have areas which could be managed to improve feeding and/or habitat we need to hear from you. 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.

We would also like to know about any sightings you have in or close to the National Park or Howardian Hills. If you see a Turtle Dove please email us at or call Richard Baines, Turtle Dove Project Officer at the National Park office on 01439 772700.

UPDATE: Our first North Yorkshire Turtle Dove this year was heard on 16 April. Due to Covid-19, our organised volunteer surveys have had to be postponed in 2020. However if you do live in the North York Moors National Park or Howardian Hills AONB, please keep your eyes and ears peeled for Turtle Doves in your garden or when out on your permitted exercise. Please be mindful of Government guidance to stay safe when exercising. Outdoor exercise is only allowed if you are social distancing, including staying 2 metres apart from those not in your household or your social bubble. Keep up to date with the latest National Park Authority response to Coronavirus.

If you do see or hear a Turtle Dove, please email 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.

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