Foraging Fields for Turtle Doves
Testing the effectiveness of bespoke field measures
2021 to 2023
Despite increasing uptake of agricultural management schemes to benefit farmland birds, Turtle Doves are still disappearing from our landscape.
The European Commission supported the development of the International Species Action Plan for the Turtle Dove (completed in 2018). It identified key contributors to their population decline and outlined a series of actions that countries will need to undertake to protect the species.
Research in the UK indicates that food shortages caused by habitat loss could be one of the main drivers in the decline of Turtle Doves. As exclusive seed-eaters, their diet was historically dominated by the seeds of agricultural weeds. The intensification of farming in Western Europe in recent decades has resulted in the loss of suitable nesting and foraging habitat for turtle doves (more info).
Given the similarities between British and Dutch climate and agricultural advancements, we expect food shortages to be a similar issue in the Netherlands. Research in Zeeland (2019/2020) followed the daily movements of 5 turtle doves and found them to be rather dependant on specific, marginal areas for their food. Earlier in the year they visited areas where seed had been made available through human activity (such as spilt seed or maize silage at farms). The research also showed that the turtle doves were not using any of the local field margins (set up within the existing Dutch agri-environment 'ANLb' scheme) . The most likely explanation for this was that the vegetation was too high and dense, restricting the movement of feeding turtle doves and their view of the surrounding area (predators!).
The creation of foraging fields is one of the measures that could help support turtle doves in the Netherlands. Turtle dove foraging habitat is very open, with lots of bare ground and plenty of seed that is available throughout the year.
International Single Species Action Plan for the Turtle Dove
“Put in place and further develop national agri-environment packages that create or maintain...
... seed-rich habitats within the species’ current or recent range. This may include bespoke seed packages that provide specific plant species that turtle-dove are known to feed on. “
This research is focussed on creating suitable foraging fields, and measuring their effectiveness for turtle doves.
If successful, the resulting management advice has the potential to be taken up in the Dutch agri-environment scheme (ANLb), allowing effective management measures to be rolled out in all areas where turtle doves are still present. Increased seed availability for turtle doves, will hopefully increase their productivity: the ultimate goal is to halt further decline of the turtle dove population in the Netherlands.
This research will be carried out in 2 study areas on Walcheren - an area of Zeeland Province in the Netherlands.
The first study area is located between Westkapelle and Zoutelande
The second is just south of Oostkapelle.
Study areas have been selected based on observations of territorial activity on Walcheren in 2020, and the distance turtle doves are likely to fly to find a good source of seed.
In addition to closely monitoring the vegetation growth on test fields, a combination of camera traps, field observations and 8 GPS transmitters will give us insight into their use by turtle doves.
The success of fields will be determined by whether they are used by turtle doves. The extent of their success will be judged on the basis of the GPS transmitter data: this information will tell us the intensity with which the test fields are being used.
Small foraging fields will be set up and closely monitored on the land of participating land-owners. A bespoke seed mix and management regime will be tested, to investigate how fields can best be managed to maximise seed availability and maintain the open vegetation structure that turtle doves need.
This research is financed by Provincie Zeeland, Vogelbescherming Nederland and Het Zeeuwse Landschap.
It will be carried out in partnership with Vogelbescherming Nederland, SOVON Vogelonderzoek Nederland, Poldernatuur Zeeland, Provincie Zeeland, Het Zeeuwse Landschap and Vreugdentil Ecologie.