Last weekend an event to celebrate the amazing work of the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project and Birds on the Edge Project took place at the stunning Castle Howard, in North Yorkshire. Castle Howard is one of England’s finest historic houses, set in a thousand acres of sweeping parkland dotted with statues, temples, lakes and fountains. But with the weather too chilly to be outside, the fire had been lit in the Grecian Hall for the occasion.

Guests were greeted with a glass of Nyetimber English Sparkling Wine, before entering the cosy Hall where the winners, runners up and highly commended artwork, from the recent Doodle a Dove competition, were on display. Once everyone was gathered, Nick Howard began proceedings with a warm welcome, and mention of the work Castle Howard have been doing to create habitat for the Turtle Dove. You can learn more about the work Castle Howard is doing for wildlife here:

Next came Richard Baines, starting with thanks to the most important people in the room, the volunteers. Who in all weather and at all hours of the day, put in the work that make the projects possible.

Rich spoke of what had gone wrong for the Turtle Dove. Turtle Dove feed solely on small seeds and land management changes have led to a decline in wild flower seed. And then their recent dependence on cereal seed or garden feed has increased the risk of disease, specifically Trichomonas gallinae. And then there is the migration hazards they face on the 11,200km round trip to and from Africa each year, which includes sandstorms, hunting and habitat change. Finally the risk of decline in habitat quality and change on their wintering grounds. All of these factors had led to the bleak decline, from the 125,000 pairs in 1970 to only 1,200 in 2021. A UK decline of 94% since 1995.

Rich spoke of the project’s conservation achievements, with the most exciting being the sighting of a Turtle Dove in one of the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Grant wildflower strips. And he talked of the collaboration between the Friends of Dalby and North Yorks Turtle Dove Project which had led to over £3,000 being raised from birders taking part in the Yorkshire Michael Clegg memorial Bird Race in 2022. The partnership’s first work was to create drinking pools in Dalby Forest, with each pool placed close to where they had found Turtle Doves during their surveys. In the future they plan to create more pools and monitor these with trail cameras. Rich emphasised the fact that every penny donated on their website went directly to creating more habitat and monitoring of Turtle Doves, so do go and donate if you can: Drinking pools for Turtle Doves in Dalby Forest.

Then Tim went into the results of this year’s survey for the Birds on the Edge Project (a study of not just the Turtle Dove, but also the Yellowhammer, Redstart and Song Thrush). In 2023 they recorded 41 1km squares, with the help of 49 volunteers who found 65 species. They recorded 59 Yellowhammer males in 26 squares, 10 Redstart males in 8 squares, 14 Turtle Dove males in 10 squares and 167 Song Thrush males in 39 squares. Tim explained how they counted only singing males to then extrapolate pair numbers from that.

In 2023 they had a total of 56 singing male Turtle Doves (42 additional singing males ‘casually’ reported on top of the formal surveys). This compared to previous years:

  • 2017: 55
  • 2018: 65
  • 2019: 97
  • 2020: 86
  • 2021: 47
  • 2022: 66
  • 2023: 56

Both Rich and Tim warned against reading too much into the figures at this stage.

Tim then discussed the intentions for the coming year for the Birds on the Edge Project. Of the plans to deploy bioacoustic recorders to develop new detection techniques to compliment the surveys. And aims to increase the Turtle Dove habitat grant plots from the 2023 count of 15 plots across 10 farms. Whilst also tweaking how the plots worked to ensure maximum benefits for the Turtle Doves. And of course, more ponds were on the agenda!

We were left with some details on how we could help Turtle Doves. By visiting the new web site and donating. And if you see or hear a Turtle Dove in North Yorkshire please let Rich and Tim know by emailing

Leica Ambassador and presenter Iolo Williams followed with the story of his first turtle dove encounter. Now many of you may not know this, but before becoming a Watches regular Iolo Williams worked for the RSPB for fifteen years, as a Species Officer for Wales, which saw him work with some of the countrys rarest breeding birds. Sadly the Turtle Dove was not one of them, but he had always dreamed of going to see them in Gwent. Unfortunately he left the trip too long, and before he had had the chance to see them, the purring call of the Turtle Dove had disappeared from their last breeding grounds in Wales in 1997.

It was on holiday near Arras, in northern France, that Iolo finally experienced that unmatched birdsong. Iolo lamented the loss, and reiterated thanks to those volunteers working tirelessly to stop Yorkshire from following in Wales’ footsteps.

And then, it had been time for Iolo to announce the winners of the Doodle a Dove competition. A few years back the Doodle a Dove competition had been run for celebrity entries, with the artwork auctioned off to raise money. Iolo had entered and was astonished to learn that someone had indeed purchased it, for he recalled his work more reminiscent of two stick insects cuddling. So he was particularly impressed with the quality of the entrants.

The winners and runners up of the Doodle a Dove competition, run in partnership with the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project, Birds on the Edge, Howardian Hills National Landscape and North York Moors Trust were:

Winner of the Youth category and a signed Iolo William’s book: Benji Fallow

Winner of the Professional category and a tour with Yorkshire Coast Nature: Jeni Davies

Winner of the Doodle category and a pair Leica Trinovid 10×32 HD: Francesca Pert

With the prizes received, that left the rest of the afternoon for everyone to enjoy a delicious high tea of scones and cakes, coffee and tea, laid on by the wonderful Castle Howard team.

To learn more about the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove head to their website:

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