The European commission has launched legal action that could protect one of the best-known birds of the English countryside from extinction.
The turtle dove – once a familiar sound of summer in south-east England – has been in steep decline since the 1970s because of intensive farming across Europe.
The birds are now listed as vulnerable by BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organisations, and are on the brink of extinction in the UK. With their mottled chestnut and black wings, the dainty birds feature in Shakespeare, the Bible and were the true love’s gift on the second day of Christmas.
Ariel Brunner, the senior head of policy at BirdLife International, said the turtle dove was “on life support” in England and could disappear from the English countryside by 2021 without urgent action across Europe. “The turtle dove is an iconic species that was providing the soundtrack of spring since the times of the Bible’s Song of Songs. But it is now racing to extinction because of unsustainable agriculture and hunting.”
The commission announced on Thursday that France and Spain had not done enough to protect the birds from habitat loss and hunting during their migration from the Sahel to their breeding grounds in northern Europe. Spain hosts more than half the EU’s breeding population of turtle doves, while France has another 10%, meaning conservation efforts in those countries will be critical for the future of the birds.
In a statement, the commission said the turtle dove was “now under threat, illustrating how pressures from agriculture and hunting contribute to biodiversity loss”. France and Spain will be issued with “a reasoned opinion”, a letter from Brussels warning of breaches of the wild birds conservation directive, the first legal step in a legal process that could end with fines being issued by the European court of justice.
Brunner described the legal action as groundbreaking because it cited the role of farming in destroying bird habitats – a sensitive area for the commission, which oversees Europe’s controversial common agricultural policy.
British conservationists decided not to lobby Brussels to bring a case against the UK government because of Brexit uncertainty.
BirdLife, whose UK member is the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, says conservation efforts in the UK will be meaningless without change across the EU.
EU acts to protect future of bird facing extinction in UK – The Guardian