Saving the turtle dove

Special efforts have been underway designed to encourage Turtle Doves to breed on Langdyke’s Etton Maxey reserve.  Project co-ordinator Martin Parsons explains how the scheme evolved …

Turtle doves were once a common summer visitor to England, but since the 1970’s their numbers have declined by 93 percent.

They are our only long-distance migratory dove, and now face a range of threats including unsustainable levels of hunting, the disease trichomoniasis, and loss of habitat on both their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan and breeding grounds in Europe and England.

There are now around only 14,000 pairs attempting to nest in Britain, and the bird is on the brink of disappearing from our summers.

Operation Turtle Dove

Operation Turtle Dove (OTD) is an RSPB project, partnered by Natural England, Pensthorpe Trust and Conservation Grade, designed to help turtle doves during their summer visit to Britain.

The objectives of the project are:

  1. To increase the amount of feeding habitat available to turtle doves within their core breeding range in the UK.
  2. To provide early sources of food to enable turtle doves to recover from their migration when they return to breeding grounds in late April-May.
  3. To work with farmers and landowners to establish and manage turtle dove habitat within current and new agri-environment schemes.
  4. To deliver free farm advisory visits to farmers within core turtle dove breeding range.
  5. To raise awareness of the plight of turtle doves.
  6. To encourage people to submit their sightings.

Langdke and Turtle Doves

Turtle doves sightings have been reported in the Etton and Maxey areas in several recent summers.

So in 2018 Langdyke Countryside Trust contacted Andrew Holland, RSPB Fens Farm Conservation Adviser, and in October hosted an on-site visit, to explore how Langdyke might help our local turtle doves. 

Turtle doves are seed-eaters, and like to feed on plants such as English vetch, black medick, bird’s-foot trefoil, white clover, red clover and common fumitory.

Almost all of these plants are available on our Etton-Maxey Pit reserve, but to assist with breeding success, a supplemental supply of seed is very welcome.

In addition, suitable scrub habitat such as hawthorn, and a supply of freshwater is required. So to be useful to the turtle doves, the feeding sight must be near water, contain bare ground, and have thick scrub or hawthorn trees nearby.

The carpark at Etton-Maxey Pit was identified as a suitable location.


In April Langdyke collected 60kg of supplemental feed, and a team comprising Mick and Keren Thomson, David and Jill Cowcill, and Martin and Kathryn Parsons began putting out 2kg of seed three times per week.

The OTD seed mix comprises white millet (35%), oil seed rape (35%), canary seed (10%), sunflower seed (10%), and wheat (10%). This mix of small round seeds makes an acceptable and nutritious supplement to the turtle dove’s diet. 


Turtle Dove Photo: Brian Lawrence

By early June a pair of turtle doves were regularly visiting the carpark, as were a variety of finches and other birds.

On August 5 five turtle dove were seen at 6:30am, and a further supply of 20kg seed mix was obtained so as to extend feeding through August.

Sightings peaked at ten turtle doves (four adult and six juveniles) on August 18. Turtle doves can only rear two young with pigeon milk at a time, so six juveniles is likely to represent a successful second brood.

We are encouraging anyone who has seen turtle doves this summer to enter their sightings on BTO’s BirdTrack system, since this is the monitoring system by which OTD success is measured.


In late August the opportunity arose to work with David Neal, an experienced local bird ringer, to try and ring some of the Etton-Maxey Pit turtle doves.

So on Monday August 26  strategically placed nets were installed before sunrise. By 7:30am one juvenile and one adult male had been successfully caught, ringed, weighed, measured, recorded and released safely back into the wild.

A Turtle Dove captured and successfully ringed. Photo: Martin Parsons
The dove is carefully ringed and details taken

Next year

Our plan at Langdyke is to continue with creating suitable habitat and encouraging the required food plants for turtle doves, and to recommence supplemental feeding next spring.

We are also investigating with the BTO whether there is more that we can do by way of gathering helpful data on these precious but endangered birds.

  • Main Turtle Dove photo by Brian Lawrence

Bulldozers on reserve

You may have been concerned to see a bulldozer on the North paddock of the Etton-Maxey reserve.

But don’t be worried. Work is being carried out by Tarmac – which actually owns the land – to reclaim the soil bund and move it to a new site.

Work started this week to dig out some surplus top soil stored under North Paddock at the top end of the reserve. This soil will be used to restore nearby quarried land to something that once again provides eco-system services such as food production.

The first task is to remove the top vegetation with a dozer. Then an excavator and trucks will move the soil to where it is required.

Finally the paddock and its fence will be made good again. The work is expected to take about six weeks to complete.

During this time our sheep will be kept over on the west side of the reserve, well away from the work area.

Harriet’s artwork appeal

There is a chance for Langdyke members to help create a unique piece of sculpture.

As part of the Langdyke 20th anniversary September celebrations the Trust has asked Harriet Mead – who is a leading guest at the event – to produce a piece of Langdyke art.

Harriet has chosen to create a sculpture of an otter.You can see examples of the kind of wonderful artwork that Harriet produces using scrap metal of all kinds – like the Wisbech Hare above –  on her website:

Harriet has asked if Langdyke members could bring bits and pieces of metal along to the celebration event on September 13 so we can take them away and blend them into the artwork.

Richard Astle has two pieces of Harriet’s work made up of things like dog chains, scissor blades, screws, slotted spoons, rakes and nuts and bolts – so have a look in your shed or garage and bring them along, 

The finished work will be on display at various locations next year.

August in pictures

What a month … there are some fabulous photos illustrating the wildlife across Langdyke reserves during August – including this great picture of a Scarlet Pimpernel.

It was taken by Langdyke treasurer and trustee Brian Lawrence during a sunny afternoon at Swaddywell Pit and is our image of the month.

Each month we select photographs taken by our members. They might not be technically perfect – but they sum up the events of that month. Here are some other images from August.

Turtle Doves breeding around the Etton Maxey reserve have been one of the highlights of the month as these great images show. This group was caught on camera by John Parsonage.

Turtle Doves at Etton Maxey. Photo: John Parsonage

The Turtle Doves have been encouraged by Langdyke volunteers who have put special food out for them three times a week.  In recent days special netting has been put up to capture some of the birds so they can be ringed by experts.

One of the volunteers Martin Parsons took this photo of one of the birds being tagged before being released.

A Turtle Dove captured and successfully ringed. Photo: Martin Parsons


Other work undertaken by Trust volunteers has included a small mammal survey, run by Steve and Liz Lonsdale, at the Etton Vergette Wood Meadow site. One of the finds included this little creature photographed by Keren Thomson just before it was released back into the wild.

One of the finds at the small mammal survey at Etton’s Vergette Wood Meadow Photo: Keren Thomson

The work of Trust volunteers is really appreciated and the organisation could not operate without the volunteers who turn out to help keep the reserves in tip top condition.

Volunteers at the Monday work party at Etton are seen here clearing weeds from the community orchard at Etton High Meadow. The photo was taken by Keren Thomson..

Work party volunteers clearing weeds from the community orchard at Etton High Meadow Photo: Keren Thomson

This work party picture, taken by Sue Welch, shows preparations being made to keep the sheep safe at Swaddywell Pit.

The Swaddywell work party preparing ground to keep the sheep safe Photo: Sue Welch

The month saw a number of sheep movements after the annual shearing to make sure they are safe and in the right grazing place for the months ahead.

These young Hebridean male lambs were born at Torpel Manor field and now have a new home grazing the paddock at Etton’s Vergette Wood Meadow. The picture was taken by Kathryn Parsons shortly after their arrival.

Some of the new born Hebridean sheep get to know their nw home at Etton’s Vergette Wood Meadow Photo: Kathryn Parsons

Swaddywell Pit has proved yet again to be a great location for photographing flowers, fauna and insects as these shots by Liam Boyle,  Brian Lawrence and Duncan Kirkwood  all prove.

The joy of Swaddywell Photo: Liam Boyle
Autumn Lady’s Tresses at Swaddywell Photo: Brian Lawrence
Mating common blue damselflies at Swaddywell. Photo: Duncan Kirkwood

1279 coin found at Etton

A coin dating back to 1279 and found on land at Etton is just one of the objects in the newly created Langdyke Museum of Objects.

The museum idea is a project launched this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Langdyke Countryside Trust.

The Long-Cross penny is most likely a coin of Edward I from 1279 minted in London.  It was found by a Trust volunteer David Rowell while digging on land at High Meadow, Etton and has been given as one of the prize objects in the new collection.

The idea of the museum came from Langdyke trustee David Cowcill and some of the items in it will be included in the Langdyke Stories booklet being published to mark the Trust’s 20th anniversary.

One side of the coin has the wording EDWR -NGL DNS HYB which translates as Edward Rex King of England, Lord of Ireland (Hybernia).  The reverse shows the name of the mint – Civitas London.

The idea of the museum of objects is that members of the Trust donate pictures of items that have left them with treasured memories of Langdyke country – generally revolving around activities on one of the group’s sites.

These will appear – alongside artwork from another major anniversary project – Langdyke Stories.  As part of that project children and adults have taken part in workshops run by artist Kathryn Parsons designed to link the countryside with art.

The book will be launched at the Langdyke annual meeting and Langdyke Stories celebration event on Friday September 13 at Castor Church.


Get Tickets for big event

It is time to start applying for tickets for one of the highlight events of Langdyke’s 20th anniversary celebrations.

The theme will be the Future of Nature and we will also be launching the John Clare Countryside Vision.

Although the event is free to members you are asked to apply for tickets online so that the organisers know how many people are attending. There will be a limited number of tickets for non members as well at a cost of £6 each.

The event –  taking place from 4pm on Friday  September 13 at Castor Church, Castor, Peterborough – will incorporate the organisation’s annual meeting but also boasts a fine array of guest speakers, the launch of a major local nature initiative and the culmination of our arts and stories project.

Our guest speakers are Harriet Mead, President of the Society of Wildlife Artists, Mark Cocker, author and naturalist, Jeremy Mynott, author of Birdscapes and Brian Eversham, Chief Executive of our Wildlife Trusts.

Annual meeting speakers (clockwise from top): Mark Cocker, Harriet Mead, Jeremy Mynott and Brian Eversham

The theme will be the Future of Nature and we will also be launching the John Clare Countryside Vision

Kathryn Parsons, our artist in residence will also lead an art workshop as part of the Langdyke Stories project which will culminate at the event with the publication of the Langdyke Stories book.

The line up of speakers promises a lively discussion with a chance for guests to join the debates and pose questions.

There will also be updates on Langdyke business as well as a series of displays.

Langdyke chair Richard Astle said: It promises to be a great, celebratory and positive event – I do hope you can join us.”

To control numbers we are using Eventbrite – an easy to use online booking system.  Even if you are a member you will need to book through the system.

If anyone has trouble booking they can email and assistance will be given.

If you would like to come, please book your tickets using the link below – please book as a member (free) – although food and drink on the evening are not included.

Non members can also use the link to book.  There will be a charge of £6 per person.

This is the link for tickets:

Steering group meets at Torpel Field cabin

The latest meeting of the New Networks for Nature steering committee was held at Torpel Field cabin.

The group is currently in the final stages of planning for their annual conference, this year held in York. The Trust welcomed the group to Torpel Manor Field in the heart of John Clare country.

Michael J. Warren (secretary) said, “We were delighted to meet at Torpel Field because the location’s rich natural history and cultural heritage, and indeed the eco-design of the lodge itself, are so appropriate to what we do.

“It made such a difference to discuss this year’s conference on nature in such beautiful and sympathetic surroundings. This meeting also marked the departure of Professor Tim Birkhead as chair, after ten years in the post since the organisation’s founding days, so it felt extra special. Thank you Langdyke Trust and we hope you’ll have us back.”

The next New Networks for Nature conference will be held at St. Peter’s School  in York, Thursday  October 31 to Sunday November 3 2019. This year’s event features speakers and performers such as Sam Lee, street artist ATM (who will be painting a huge Tansy Beetle in York specially for New Networks) and Chris Packham.

Full details of the programme and bookings can be found at 

Shown in the picture (from left)  are Amy-Jane Beer, John Fanshawe,  Richard Kerridge, Mike Toms, Mary Colwell, Tim Birkhead and Michael J. Warren.

Turtle dove success

For months now a team of Langdyke volunteers have been laying feed at the Etton Maxey reserve in the hope of encouraging turtle doves to breed.

There have been several sightings of the birds – proof that the project has been a success.

These photos taken by John Parsonage are proof.  Great images captured near the Etton Maxey reserve car park.