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When I started a new part time job in May 2017 as the Turtle Dove Project Officer for the North York Moors National Park I never dreamed less than a year later I would be involved in an international project to save our beautiful birds from illegal slaughter.

Turtle Dove shot and caged, photo credit Champions of the Flyway

A major concern queried by our volunteer advocates of the North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project is “what are you doing about the illegal killing of Turtle Doves on migration”. Our project is a locally based project aimed at working with communities and landowners with no requirement to get involved outside of the UK. But we now live in a connected world where we can all make a difference!

So in November of 2017 four crazy birders from Yorkshire formed the Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers team. Mark Pearson (captain), Darren Woodhead (famous bird artist born in Yorkshire but currently living in Scotland), Richard Baines (Yorkshire Coast Nature and North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Officer) and Jono Leadley (Yorkshire Wildlife Trust North Regional Manager).

The Champions of the Flyway fundraising event is held in Eilat Israel. Birders from all over the world gather to compete in a Bird Race (the most species seen in a 24 hour period). In 2018 the event will take place on the 26th March. All sponsor money raised will go directly to fund education and advocacy in countries with illegal killing issues for migrant birds such as Turtle Dove, Cuckoo and Quail.

Background to Illegal Killing Issues

In August 2015, the shocking extent of the slaughter around the Mediterranean was revealed by a study The Killing published by BirdLife International. Around 25 million birds, mainly songbirds including Turtle Doves are illegally killed by shooters and trappers every year.  To tackle these threats, conservation efforts need to be scaled up at the worst locations, coupled with effective and well-coordinated local, regional and national advocacy. This year’s money will mainly go to projects in Serbia and Croatia where Quail hunting is a major problem.

Photo credit: Richard Baines

Sadly, these little gamebirds have long been a popular dish and in the Mediterranean they are still hunted in their thousands as they pass through on migration. Despite a Europe-wide ban on spring hunting, much illegal trapping still continues, with tape lures being used to attract Quail, passing over in the dark. In Serbia and Croatia, at least 50,000 Quail are trapped illegally each spring. Would some of these birds have been destined for Yorkshire? Maybe not, but the pressure from illegal hunting on Quail and other species, most famously Turtle Doves, is unsustainable and is undoubtedly having a grave impact on the European populations of these and other species. Many NGOs and concerned individuals are lobbying governments and the EU to try and tackle this, but progress is slow. Direct action to deal with illegal activities in Mediterranean countries is essential whilst the frustratingly slow wheels of bureaucracy turn.

Champions of the Flyway work to enable national BirdLife Partners to tackle these issues locally. Every year, they build on our conservation success, being fervent believers that this massive crisis of illegal bird killing can be mitigated with proper strategy and investment. “We know the extent of the problem. We are taking action already. But we need to increase the pressure now. Please join us. We are the power of many and together we can stop illegal bird killing – forever”.

How Can You Help?

Our fundraising campaign is going well. Mark secured the support of Zeiss early doors and we have managed to add several corporate sponsors to this since, and we are very grateful to them too: Ark Display Graphics, North York Moors National Park, Indus Experiences, Evoluted, Filey Vets and Rackham’s Accountants. But we want to raise more. We are grateful to the many individuals, wildlife societies and others that have contributed to our Justgiving page so far.

You may think our chances of winning this bird race are slim. And you would of course be quite correct. However, there is an additional prize for the most money raised to support the cause, and this is the prize we want to win, because this is what it is about: raising money to stop the illegal persecution of migrant birds. It is the most important thing for us.

Article written by Jono Leadley and Richard Baines 

Mark Pearson Team Captain and Richard Baines
Turtle Dove Project Officer North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project and 
Yorkshire Coast Nature

Originally Published: 12 Feb 2018

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