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LOVEY DOVEY; Seeds to save countryside's iconic bird.

Byline: Josh Layton

WE'VE been carolling about them all Christmas - but now the turtle dove must sing for its own survival.

The species is being wiped out faster than any other bird in England because of shortages of seed and grain in the breeding season.

The dainty dove, a symbol of love in the 12 Days of Christmas, is on the conservation Red List - indicating a desperate decline in numbers.

But researchers believe farmers could halt the decline by spreading seeds in special areas of land.

Tom Lancaster, RSPB Agriculture Policy Officer, said: "Turtle doves are one of our most iconic farmland birds. Farmers have a vital role to play and could help bring this bird back from the brink."

Dr Jenny Dunn, the RSPB and the University of Leeds spent four years studying doves in South East England.

The population showed high levels of parasite Trichomonas gallinae, which causes the deadly bird disease trichomonosis. Dr Dunn said: "We're investigating whether we can combat food shortage and disease by providing seed in the wider countryside.

"Having more food sources may allow the adult birds to spend more time caring for their offspring instead of searching for food.

"As the parasite is spread through infected food and water, having more food patches over a wide area may also reduce the concentrations of birds feeding on a small number of patches, and so cut the risk of infection."

The turtle dove population has declined by 95% since 1970.

Tools One factor has been farmers concentrating on fewer crops that don't allow seeds to grow around fields.

The Countryside Stewardship scheme, set to launch in the new year, aims to improve the environmental value of farmland and will provide the tools farmers need.

The last estimate of the turtle dove population, in 2009, suggested there were 14,000 pairs in the UK. But according to the RSPB its numbers are halving every six years.

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Title Annotation:Editorial; Opinion Columns
Publication:The People (London, England)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 28, 2014
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