A couple of days ago we wrote about the UK Company Davis & Bowring offering trips to slaughter Turtle Doves in Morocco. As a general principle I am totally opposed to the shooting of any animal for ‘sport’ or ‘fun’: shooting for ‘sport’ – in my opinion – is an arrogance and epitomises the disrespect many people (unfortunately) have towards animals. As I said, it’s an opinion. Many men and women (though it’s mainly men) will disagree. Going out and smashing birds out of the air is apparently enjoyable: we will never agree on that, and hopefully one day they’ll come around to a more considered way of relating to the wildlife we share this world with…
Anyway, even the hardened hunters that occasionally troll this site (and more often troll my Twitter account) have been silent over what Davis & Bowring were offering on their website: a ‘long weekend’ in Morocco dispatching Turtle Doves. Perhaps this is because most people on either side of the hunting argument recognise that going overseas to kill a severely threatened bird species is not the sort of ‘sport’ that they or the UK should be involved in. And Turtle Doves are severely threatened. They have declined massively across western breeding grounds. Its soft ‘purring’ call used to be as much a sound of summer as Cuckoos and bumblebees, but here in the UK there was a 74% decline in breeding birds between 1995 and 2009 (BTO/JNCC/RSPB Bird Trends). When I interviewed the RSPB’s energetic (and usually optimistic) Senior Farmland Conservation Officer Simon Tonkin for a podcast on farming issues (/tn75-rspb-wildlife-friendly-farming/) he shocked me by saying about the Turtle Dove that “…it will be fairly ambitious to think that it will still be here as a breeding bird in the UK in ten year’s time…”. An incredible thought just thirty years ago, but now the reality.
Shooting Turtle Doves in Morocco isn’t of course the reason for this decline. Breeding productivity of the few pairs that do nest here has halved. There is a lack of wild flower seeds on our intensively managed farmland now that has resulted in the starvation of nestlings and the almost total lack of recruitment of young birds into the population. But shooting them there or anywhere they occur certainly doesn’t help. No struggling species needs that sort of additional pressure. It’s almost certainly not illegal to shoot Turtle Doves in Morocco (it would be in Europe but the situation in North Africa will be different), but it is morally repugnant.
I doubt very much that Davis & Bowring actually organise these trips themselves though – I suspect that they will in effect be acting as agents for the Moroccans, facilitating the travel arrangements for the real villains: those ‘hunters’ here who are so utterly unaware of wildlife and the problems facing the countryside that all that interests them is a couple of days of ‘sport’.
I suspect that because after just two days of strong pressure from outraged birders and conservationists (mainly via Twitter and Facebook) Davis and Bowring say that they have removed the page from their website that advertised the trips, claiming that the site is being ‘upgraded’. If this is so, that will be very good news indeed. Had the ‘business’ of shooting Turtle Doves really mattered to them, however, I suspect (and it is just conjecture, I’ve not received an answer to my emails) they may have put up a stronger fight to protect their profits. If they are collecting little more than an agency fee then it would make sense to duck the pressure, write off the revenue, and step out of the spotlight.
I may be wrong (feel free to correct me D & B), but if that was the case then it might perhaps show three things: that companies like D&B are susceptible to targeted pressure, especially if the result doesn’t impact them too much financially; that there are almost certainly not vast numbers of people paying to travel from the UK to kill Turtle Doves or the resistance to the loss of revenue would have been much more robust; and that this will almost certainly not be the end of this sort of ‘holiday’, because the Moroccan organisers will now be looking for alternative outlets through which to attract their ethically impoverished clients.
Those of who care about this gentle and beautiful bird will have to keep watching, and keep on googling ‘morocco turtle dove shooting’ or similar and see what pops up.
And of course we should throw our combined weights behind ‘Operation Turtle Dove’ the multi-agency project that is working incredibly hard on the ground to increase breeding productivity and rebuild the UK breeding population of one of the summer’s most iconic bird species:
More information about the issues impacting Turtle Doves and the work being done to save them can be found on the multi-agency website at http://operationturtledove.org/