As a child, the advent of the Yuletide season was marked by the school singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in our weekly assemblies.
It’s a fun song and a little non-sensical, especially when your true love turns up with two turtle doves.
This one always had me bemused as I tried hard to imagine a gentle dove mutating into some form of aquatic creature. However, in truth the bird is named after its song. Between May and July you might hear the cat-like purr of the turtle dove coming from open woodlands, copses or commons. To some people the call sounded more like “turr, turr” and in the choice between turr-tle dove and purr-tle dove, the former won out! Sadly, these doves which are symbolic of love and friendship are becoming increasingly rare and have now been added to the IUCN’s Red List, bringing the number of endangered birds in the UK to eight.
Another new addition to this list is the puffin, a bird which really is comfortable on land and in the water. Puffins live either on small off-shore islands or tall sea cliffs during breeding season but for the rest of the year they are found out to sea. They have an amazing ability to swim and dive to depths of 60 metres using their wings to propel themselves underwater. Best known for their iconic colourful bills which can change colour during the year, they are also known as “clowns of the sea” or “sea parrots”.
The turtle dove is the UK’s fastest declining bird mainly due to the loss of woodland habitats within Europe and acacia forests in their African overwintering homes. Large numbers are also lost to hunters during their migratory journey overseas. Oil pollution and the introduction of predatory rats to island nesting grounds have led to the numbers of breeding puffins halving in the last fifty years.
Conservation groups are understandably concerned and Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director has said: “The global wave of extinction is now lapping at our shores.
“The erosion of the UK’s wildlife is staggering and this is reinforced when you talk about puffin and turtle dove now facing the same level of extinction threat as African elephant and lion, and being more endangered than the humpback whale.”
However, there is always scope to work for nature and win. With the right funding and conservation measures, threatened species can recover. A ten-year RSPB project on Lundy island to eradicate rats is credited with the puffins’ gradual resurgence in this area. Agri-environment schemes such as the Countryside Stewardship offer farmers support to aid species recovery and has proven success with stone curlews and cirl buntings.
To find out more about the RSPB and how you can help support conservation efforts for UK’s threatened wildlife, please visit www.rspb.org. uk