This project was launched in May 2012 to help reverse the decline of the Turtle Dove whose numbers have dropped by 93% since the 1970’s, leaving the species at real threat of extinction.   The project partners RSPB, Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England are working together to develop research to further knowledge on Turtle Dove ecology, especially on breeding grounds in England, establish suitable foraging habitat by engaging with farmers and landowners and working with international partners to address threats affecting the species on wintering grounds and along the migratory route.

This project is very important in Suffolk as the British Trust for Ornithology provides data which shows that our county hosts almost 17% of the entire UK population of turtle doves. Therefore it is vital that this population is maintained to prevent the further decline of the species.  After we spoke to Samantha about the plight of the Turtle Dove we found out how we could help by creating a habitat for the birds in our garden.


We set to work throughout June and cleared an area of one of our wildflower areas. This was dug over and prepared for the special seed mix of plants needed to create a habitat for Turtle Doves. Turtle Doves feed entirely on seeds and prefer small seeds from plants that usually grow on arable land which they feed on from April through to September. These plants include Common vetch, Birds foot trefoil, White and Red clover, Black medick and fumitory. In order to make a perfect habitat the seeds need to be mixed to different proportions so Samantha brought us in a specially mixed batch of seeds for us to plant up.


Once we prepared the ground we spread the seed and waited for nature to take its course. The growth was slow but when the seedlings started to come up we were able to identify the different species. Samantha came for a follow up visit and trained us to manage the patch and advised us on what other species we could remove such as tansies, grass and Mare’s tail. We have continued to do this throughout the summer to encourage the growth of the desired plants by stopping more invasive species from taking over. We are still waiting for these plants to flower and seed but hopefully when they do we will have a positive sighting of a Turtle Dove!


Later this month we will also be creating a new Turtle Dove Conservation Area in our Bee Meadow. A team of volunteers will be clearing a larger patch for this area and now that we are experts in creating and maintaining this habitat we will be able to do so to the Turtle Doves’ specifications! The bees will also benefit from the introduction of these species in to the meadow.


It has been great working in partnership with the RSPB as it has given us the opportunity not only to take part in this amazing and important project but also enabled us to learn more about creating and maintaining habitats and to be able to train our volunteers in this. We have also been able to share this knowledge with the local community and local children through our schools education programme.


You can find out more about this project and how you can help at or why not pop down to the gardens to have a look and have a chat with us about the project.




Operation Turtle Dove –Advisory Report

Ipswich Community Gardens

Foraging Habitat:

Turtle doves feed entirely on seeds, preferably small seeds from arable plants. They require these seeds from late April through to September.

Implementing autumn sown turtle dove seed mix plots or spring cultivated uncropped margins will ensure that seed resources are available in early spring. The suggested area of habitat is 2-3 ha per 100ha of arable, but providing any well located and managed areas will be beneficial.

Turtle Dove Seed Mixture:


Early English common vetch – 25%

Birds foot trefoil – 20%

Early white clover – 20%

Black medick – 20%

Early red clover – 10%

Fumitory – 5%

Sowing rate is 6kg per acre at £150 for 6kg of bespoke seed.


The seed mixture is available from Kings Game Cover and Conservation Crops


Key Management Requirements:

–       The mix should be sown at a rate of 10-15kg/ha during the period July – early October. On heavy soils the higher sowing rate should be used to reduce the risk of weed invasion.


–       Seed-beds should be prepared as appropriate for the site to create a stale seed-bed. Seeds should be broadcast and then the plots rolled (to ensure seed has good contact with the soil and the soil maintains moisture, can be achieved on smaller scale using pressure applied to a plank of wood over prepared site).


–       Plots should be at least 6m wide and a maximum area of 1ha


–       Plots should be positioned in field corners or margins, close to suitable Turtle Dove nesting habitat (especially scrub) or near ponds or other wetland features.


–       Cutting of the plots should take place firstly in mid-summer (mid June – first week of July) and then in autumn (15th September – 31st October)


–       To maintain their suitability for foraging turtle doves, the mid-summer cut should be undertaken in strips on annual rotation. This helps to prolong the flowering period of the mix.


–       The autumn cut should be to a height of 5cm.


Follow up management:


To remain useful for turtle doves each plot needs to maintain seed production whilst keeping an open and accessible structure.


If plots develop a dense sward then options for improvement include; dragging some tines through in early spring, harrowing or close cutting of parts of the plots. Reducing the sowing rates on future plots established on similar ground may help to reduce the problem.


If a problem arises with injurious weeds (i.e. creeping thistle, docks and common ragwort) these can be spot-treated or weed wiped with herbicides. Non-residual, non-selective herbicides can be used prior to sowing to help re-establishment.