After 13 days, walking over 300 gruelling miles, two intrepid explorers finally crossed the finish line at RSPB Saltholme, near Stockton, on 10 April in a quest to save the turtledove.
Jonny Rankin and Robert Yaxley set off from Lakenheath Fen, on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk, on 29 March – along with their friend, Andrew Goodrick, who joined them for 100 miles – to raise money for ‘Operation Turtle Dove’, a project launched by conservation charities to save the European turtle dove from extinction.
The walk raised over £2,000 for the project, which is headed up by the RSPB, with Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England.
Jonny Rankin said: “We’ve been involved in Operation Turtle Dove since its inception in 2012 and each year we look for bigger and better ways of raising the profile and raising funds for this iconic species.
“This walk has given us a chance to start planning next year’s expedition. However, right now I’m terrified of taking my boots off because I feel like they’re holding my feet together!”
At the moment the trio are keeping their plans under wraps, but they’re promising something bigger and better next time.
Lydia Tague, RSPB Saltholme’s Marketing Officer, said: “These guys truly are an inspiration. Their passion is infectious, and we’re all excited to see what they do next.”
I chatted with the two intrepid walkers as they prepared to tuck into their meals after crossing the finishing line at RSPB Saltholme.
Q: Just tell me what it felt like when you saw the sign to RSPB Saltholme?
Jonny Rankin: Very, very good. It was the sign we had been thinking abuot since we left Lakenheath Fen RSPB and went to Frampton Marsh RSPB on the third night and once those two reserves were done we were focussed on Saltholme.
Q: A long way.
JR: Yes we reckon we got to the 300 mile mark, if not just a little over. Delighted to be here.
Q: Most people who walk long distance go along recognised paths but you were picking out quite an unusual route.
Robert Laxley: Yes although probably almost 70% of our journey was along footpaths of one kind or another. There was quite a bit of road today but generally speaking around the Lincolnshire coast and the Yorkshire coast we kept on footpaths. So it was really nice.
JR: There were good wildlife areas. Around The Wash, so we got to walk Donna Nook and the MOD range as well and we saw a lot of birds as well, short easred owls and hen harriers. All the good stuff.
Q: Can you tell me why you wanted to do this Dove Step, walk?
RL: Yes, we basically wanted to use what was available to us, which was principally ourselves and a couple of weeks off to do something dramatic and hopefully raising funds for Operation Turtle Dove and for the RSPB. We devised this walk.
Q: This has raised a lot of awareness as well. I must admit I had no idea about this dramatic decline of the turtle dove. One of our most famous, and sung about birds.
RL: Yes. They have declined 93% in this country since 1970 and about 63% decline in Europe over the same period. So within a couple of generations. Projecting forward we could be in for an extinction of this species within 10 years in UK. It was those sort of figures that prompted us to do something that we thought that was quite dramatic.
Q: Yes and you are certainly putting it into everyone’s minds now.
JR: Yes we have had the blog going everyday we have been walking so that’s been good. There was a bit of a preamble posting before we set off and we’ll have some now that we have finished. And we are just coming into a time where the turtle doves will be returning at the end of the month. So a nicely timed push and then they will be in people’s consciousness.
Q: And hopefully make some steps forward with the money you have raised in finding out what is happening to the turtle doves.
RL: I think that would be great if some of the money we have raised could go into researching perhaps where our turtle doves go exactly in the winter time. I know some French researchers have been doing work tagging birds with satellite tags. It would be very interesting if they could do the same for the turtle doves that come to this country.
JR: Does our population share a migratory route or do we have a distinct migratory route that we can help on that route? Do they avoid the guns over, say, Malta, but then get hit hard over the African countries where they shoot.
There’s loads you can find out but obviously it requires awareness and funds, so that’s why we had a crack at this.
Q: You are going to now tuck into some well earned food and a beer.
JR: Yes. We are sponsored by Bridgedale Socks, Wild Frontier Ecology, a premier ecologocial company in Norfolk, Black Bar Brewery in Cambridge who kindly brewed this Dove Step beer.
Rob is originally from and still lives in Norfolk and Jonny is originally from Durham, and Andrew Goodrick who walked four days is also from the Durham, two north east lads and one from Norfolk.
Lydia Tague, RSPB Saltholme’s Marketing Officer, commented: ”The guys have done an absolutely amazing thing walking 300 miles in 13 days to raise awareness of Operation Dove Step, which is a project led by the RSPB in partnership with other organisations. Basically turtle doves have declined by 96% and we don’t really know why. So operation turtle dove will do research into why that has happened and hopefully will reverse that trend. These guys are obviously really passionate about turtle doves and wildlife and have done an amazing thing in walking these 300 miles.”
To find out more about their journey, take a look at their blog dovestep.wordpress.com and for more information about Operation Turtle Dove visit operationturtledove.org
To keep up to date with events and activities at RSPB Saltholme, call 01642 546625 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos Tracy Hyman