IT'S called Dove Step and it will involve four bird watchers walking 300 miles to the North-East.

The idea of Jonny Rankin, originally from High Shincliffe, Durham, but now living in Bury St Edmonds, he along with friends Andrew Goodrick, originally from Meadowfield, Durham, Tristan Reid and Robert Yaxley will embark on the trek, which starts on March 29 and ends at RSPB Saltholme on Teesside on April 10, in the name of Turtle Dove.

All have been raising cash for Operation Turtle Dove for the past three years - a campaign launched by conservation charities to save the European species.

It breeds in the UK, but its numbers have fallen dramatically since the 1970s, with the RSPB saying there are now just nine for every 100 40 years ago.

Once commonplace, the turtle dove is now restricted to areas of East Anglia and southern England.

The money raised from Dove Step will help the RSPB fund further research into the decline of the species and put measures in place to increase UK populations.

Mr Rankin, a regular visitor to RSPB Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk from where the walk starts, said: "Growing up in the North-East there was one site locally where we could see turtle dove and I still remember the first one I saw when out bird watching with my father.

"It was such a striking bird and so exciting to see it left an indelible mark.

"When I learnt of Operation Turtle Dove and the very real possibility that we could see a UK extinction of turtle doves in my lifetime I wanted to do everything I could to support it."

The quartet expect the journey - which follows the traditional summer range of the bird - to take 13 days to complete.

To keep up to date with the Dove Step journey, or donate to their appeal visit or