Our Partridge Count Scheme (PCS) collates information on the annual abundance and breeding success of grey partridges provided by volunteer contributors to the scheme, and has held data since the 1930s. The scheme is one of the cornerstones of our research. The PCS also serves as a means of supplying practical support and advice to farmers and landowners, both through information given directly to its contributors and through talks and demonstrations provided by our advisory and research staff at meetings of the Regional Grey Partridge Groups, all of which help to fulfil our role as lead partner for the UK grey partridge Biodiversity Action Plan.
Expectations were not high for the 2008 spring grey partridge counts after poor chick survival in the summer of 2007 throughout the country. It did not help that counts were delayed owing to a cold start in many places − keeping birds within cover and delaying pairing. As a result, the number of estates that returned counts declined from 978 to 877, a drop of 10% (see Table 1a), as did the number of grey partridges counted. Compared with the 2007 figures, when Northern England and Scotland increased their grey partridge stocks, in 2008 declines in spring pair density occurred throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Excluding Wales, Northern and Eastern England were the regions with the biggest falls (of approximately 16% on last year’s figures). Both the Southern and Midland regions showed the smallest decline – around 6% each. However, the Southern region remains the area of England with the lowest average grey partridge density among contributing sites.
Following a disappointing spring came another poor summer. Although summer temperatures were around the long-term average, higher than average summer rainfall (with the exception of north west Scotland and south east England), combined with lower than average hours of sunshine, produced poor conditions for grey partridge chick production. There were some remarkable exceptions, where good management resulted in high autumn densities of grey partridges (see Sussex article on page 26).
August 2008 was wet, delaying harvest and making autumn counts difficult. Harvesting and planting took place within a very short weather window and many participants could count only small areas of ground compared with normal. They often counted much later than usual, making the separation of old and young in many coveys difficult. A measure of this delay was that it was only on 24 November that we had received a total of 500 counts, a month later than usual. The number of autumn counts returned was 10% lower than the number returned in 2007, reflecting the difficulties in counting (see Table 1b). The average young-to-old ratio overall was similar to last year, with Northern and Eastern England figures higher than in 2007. The higher young-to-old ratio in Northern England fed into higher autumn densities in 2008 compared with 2007 – one of the few positive signs from what was not a good year for partridges. Overall, the average grey partridge autumn density declined by 8%.
|Number of sites||Spring pair density
(pairs per km2 (100ha))
|Number of sites||Young-to-old ratio||Autumn density
(birds per km2 (100ha))