A PROJECT to help protect a critically endangered bird is seeking the help of landowners in North Yorkshire.

The North Yorkshire turtle dove project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is looking for land owners large and small who may be able to help provide improved habitat to native bird species.

Turtle doves are now critically endangered in the UK. Due in part to modern farming practices, the dense patches of scrub in which they nest and the wildflowers that provide them with seed have been lost.

The North York Moors National Park is fortunate to be one of the few remaining strongholds for the species, and the turtle dove project is seeking individuals and community groups who can help restore some of the birds’ natural habitat.

“This autumn, nine different landowners and tenants have established 17 new turtle dove wildflower plots,” said Richard Baines, turtle dove project officer.

“These include the Sawdon Community Nature Reserve Group, which has also planted a mixture of hawthorn, blackthorn and hazel to create a thicket of scrub, perfect to protect the delicate nests of turtle doves in future years.

“It’s a great start, but we need many more reserves if we are going to have a chance of making a difference.”

The newly-planted reserves don’t just benefit turtle doves, but are valuable for a whole range of declining bird species.

Song thrushes too prefer large hedges or dense scrub for their nests, and grey partridge and yellowhammers are reliant on open land rich in small insects.

“In Sawdon they’ve planted a special mix of delicate flowers, chosen to provide native wild flower seed for these endangered birds,” said Richard.

“The beautiful pale red of common fumitory and the vibrant yellow of bird’s-foot trefoil - once locally named together as ‘bacon and eggs’ - will be emerging from the ground in the spring, just in time for the returning turtle doves.

“Although in Britain we sing about turtle doves at Christmas, they’re actually more than 11,000km away in Mali, Africa; but we look forward to welcoming them back in late April.”

The North Yorkshire Turtle Dove Project is a partnership project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, North York Moors National Park Authority, Forestry Commission and Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in partnership with RSPB, Scarborough Borough Council, and North and East Yorkshire Ecological Data Centre.

For more information on how you and your community could help, email conservation@northyorkmoors.org.uk