Why is the grey partridge a Biodiversity Action Plan species?
During the 19th Century, partridges flourished following land enclosure, which gave a patchwork quilt landscape of mixed cropping, and an increasing interest in shooting. By the late 19th and early 20th Century, grey patridge numbers were probably at a high point with more than 1 million pairs in the UK.
In the 1950s, a sharp decline in numbers followed the introduction of herbicides in cereal growing, a reduction in gamekeepers and some habitat loss through hedgerow margin removal.
We believe the causes of the grey partridge decline are also common to the loss in numbers of other farmland birds.
Given low numbers of grey partridge, should I continue to shoot them?
Here are the four golden rules to help you decide. Don’t shoot wild greys:
unless the autumn population is counted at over 20 birds per 250 acres (100 hectares)
when they are in pairs
by accident, i.e. when shooting redlegs or pheasants – special care is needed when driving redleg partridges
unless you also engage in the habitat enhancement, predation control and regularly assess their numbers and breeding performance
Would more gamekeepers and better predation control produce more wild partridges?
Yes. Our research has proved that effective predation control can easily treble grey partridge numbers in a few years.
Reducing foxes, crows and small ground predators such as stoats and rats in the breeding and pre-breeding seasons is especially important. However, labour is expensive, i.e. professional keepers, and amateurs rarely have the expertise and time to be effective over a big area.
If grey partridge numbers are low, why aren't they legally protected?
The fact is that wild grey partridges are more abundant where they are conserved for shooting.
Denying those who do most to provide habitat and control predation the right to ‘harvest’ grey partridges when there is a shootable surplus would, at a stroke, eliminate much of the hard work and habitat that is created to conserve them. There would then be fewer partridges, not more.
Surely the way to increase grey partridges is to release more?
This is a common view, but our research suggests that releasing game farm stock into a wild population may be counter-productive. This is probably because the released birds are not likely to be good mothers.
If they take territories that could have been occupied by truly wild stock the exercise may therefore be damaging. Where no wild greys exist, there is a better reason to restock.
Does stocking with redleg partridges cause the wild grey partridge to decline?
There is no hard evidence of this, but redlegs may be detrimental in some circumstances.
Generally, the grey partridge is a more aggressive bird, but in the spring redlegs may dump their eggs into grey nests, resulting in incomplete or disrupted incubation of the grey eggs.
Unless special measures are taken to avoid it, greys can be shot by mistake, especially on redleg days, but also by inexperienced guns on pheasant days.
If I need to count partridges before deciding to shoot, how do I do it?
The key count is carried out in the early autumn, immediately after harvest on arable ground, and any time after mid-August elsewhere. Try to complete the count before mid-September before the young birds moult into adult plumage. Drive round the whole area, field at a time, in early morning or late evening recording single birds, pairs and the size of all coveys.
A pair of x10 binoculars are essential and two bird spotters in a vehicle are better than one. Try to establish which are young and which are old birds, and which are the males and females among the old birds. From this you can work out breeding success.
Do not consider shooting unless you have more than than 20 birds per 250 acres and in poor breeding years do not shoot at all. Even in good years never shoot more than 30% of the stock.
Why not submit your count to the Trust's long-running
Partridge Count Scheme and benefit from the free information it provides?
Are there any grants for habitat improvement for wild partridges?
Yes. The various stewardship schemes, operated separately for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, give grants for hedgerows, as well as for conservation headlands, beetle banks and wild-bird seed mixes.
Remember, one can also establish wild bird cover on set-aside ground.
How can I reduce the risk of guns shooting greys and on driven redleg shoots?
Tell guns what to look out for. Greys usually fly in coveys until they pair up in January, while redlegs may fly in large, more loose packs, but often in singles.
This alone may not be enough, so try to develop a system of signals from the beaters, and in particular the flankers, to warn guns of approaching grey partridges. Loud ‘thunderer’ whistles could indicate greys are coming so guns should only shoot if they are absolutely certain of redlegs over in the 15 seconds after a whistle blast. This technique has proved very effective.
Free Grey Partridge Guide