Is releasing appropriate?
The successful re-establishment of grey partridges through releasing is a serious affair. Grey partridge re-establishment efforts are lengthy, labour-intensive and expensive operations with no guarantee of success.
When is releasing appropriate as a means of re-establishing grey partridges on a piece of land? We know from our Grey Partridge Recovery Project at Royston in Hertfordshire that, from a starting density of 2.9 pairs/km², it is possible to exceed 18 pairs/km² in five years with the correct management. As a result, our first guideline is:
Where grey partridges are still present (over two pairs/km² on at least 4km² or 400 hectares), releasing is inappropriate.
Where grey partridges are still present (over two pairs/km² on at least 4km² or 400 hectares), releasing is inappropriate. Instead, partridge recovery can and should be brought about solely through habitat improvements and predator management. Over the past 30 years, our research has provided practical recommendations addressing nesting, brood-rearing and over-winter habitats, together with food and predator management. Taken together, this is the strategy that has been so effective at Royston.
By inference, releasing is appropriate only where there are no or very few grey partridges still present (under two pairs/km² on at least 4km² or 400 hectares). Even where it is appropriate, we cannot over stress that releasing is only one component along the way to re-establishing grey partridges successfully. The same issues of habitat improvement, food and predator management apply as above. These must be addressed and detailed advice sought before re-establishment through releases is attempted. Attempts to re-establish birds in areas of unsuitable habitat contravene IUCN guidelines, and will fail and discredit the practice.
The first step towards re-establishing grey partridges on a piece of land must therefore be a systematic count to determine the number present, and hence the density. We strongly recommend joining our free Partridge Count Scheme for advice on how to count grey partridges effectively.
Measures needed for re-establishment
Providing the right types and amounts of habitat is the most important factor affecting the chances of grey partridge re-establishment being successful. It is essential to have well-established over-winter and spring cover, nesting, brood-rearing and foraging cover. For detailed information on how to achieve these measures please consult our grey partridge factsheets on providing nesting cover, providing brood-rearing cover and providing winter cover and food for wild grey partridges.
Habitat requirements for the birds need to be met on an area of at least 4km² (400 hectares). It therefore will be essential, in most cases, to work together with neighbouring farms.
Note that having had good partridge numbers in the past is no guide to the current suitability of land for grey partridges. Major habitat changes, such as woodland planting, may mean that the land is no longer suitable.
Manage predators of grey partridge adults and nests (foxes, feral cats, stoats, weasels, rats, crows and magpies), especially foxes. See our factsheet ‘Using predation control to increase wild grey partridges’.
Intensify predator management from February to June, as this is the time when grey partridges suffer the highest losses to predation.
Install one to two feeders per (potential) pair. Be prepared to keep them topped up from the time of release through to the end of May to minimise dispersal and aid settlement of pairs. Once the birds have settled, adjust the location of the feeders accordingly.
Download our feeding guidelines >
When feeders are in use, control any rats that are attracted to them. Position the feeders carefully so that partridges are not easy prey for raptors. Although feeders have not been shown scientifically to increase the breeding success of grey partridges, they seem to help hold the birds over winter and provide a focal point when they are establishing their spring territories. The presence of partridges close to feeders also makes it easier to count them in spring.
Where grey partridges are still present
Do NOT release any birds
- Releasing may in fact be counter-productive, as the release of reared stock may have negative effects on the breeding success of local wild stock.
Proceed as demonstrated at Royston
- Improve habitat and intensify predator management.
- If you have not already done so, stop shooting grey partridges as soon as numbers are below 20 birds/km² in the autumn. During driven redleg shoots, take special measures to avoid shooting greys (e.g. using whistles to forewarn guns when coveys of greys are flushed).
- Provide feeders. At Royston a feeder was provided every 100 metres along field margins and beetle banks.
- Reduce disturbance (leisure and shooting) especially where grey partridge numbers have fallen below four pairs/km². Place signs along bridleways and footpaths asking people to keep dogs on leads (see page 17). If you shoot redlegs, we also recommend not having more than two drives within the core grey partridge area per season, because flushing grey partridges too many times exacerbates the risk of them moving away to neighbouring farms.
Count your birds in spring and autumn and send your data to our Partridge Count Scheme. Keep records of how many birds you have and where you see most of them. The area where you encounter most grey partridges should be considered your core area. It is there where the most effort should be put into habitat improvements, predator management, feeding and disturbance reduction.
Adjust strategy on basis of monitoring
By participating in the Partridge Count Scheme, you will receive feedback based on your counts that will highlight where management can be improved. Adjust your grey partridge recovery strategy accordingly.
If you are unsure what to do, ask your local GWCT advisor for assistance, or contact us on 01425 651013.
Where there are none or very few grey partridges still present
Before release, make sure that all suitable measures are in place
Improve habitat, intensify predator management, stop shooting grey partridges, provide feeders and minimise disturbance. Never release birds into unsuitable habitat, as all grey partridge releasing projects that have done so in the past have failed.
Organise suitable release stock
Translocated wild birds will perform best. However, they must be sourced from a viable natural population (at a density of at least 25 birds/km² in autumn) in comparable habitat, and no more than 10% of the autumn stock should be taken so that the donor population isn’t damaged. Trapping should be carried out during the open season (1 September to 1 February in Great Britain, 1 October to 31 January in Northern Ireland). The transport of wild-caught birds requires special attention to minimise stress and injury, and trapped birds should have water and food available at all times. A source area close to the release site would be the best option.
If wild birds aren’t available for translocation, reared birds need to be used. Parent-reared birds should be favoured, followed by bantam or artificially-reared ones from a reputable source, preferably from a non-domesticated lineage. The breeding stock may be from continental Europe, though not from Ireland or Finland, where the genetic strain is different.
Release birds to build fostering stock
Translocate wild pairs in January or release reared family groups in October/November. To increase the chances of success, translocate at least 10 pairs at a time (the more the better). If no wild birds are available, a minimum of 10 reared family groups consisting of two adult birds and 10-15 juveniles should be released within an area of 4km². Experience suggests that coveys should be released close enough to make them aware of each other, but distant enough to prevent merging (approximately 400 metres apart should work in most cases). All released birds should be fitted with plastic colour split rings, ideally one particular colour per year duplicated on each leg as insurance against ring loss. This will allow identification of the released birds during monitoring or when shot, which provides important information on project success.
Monitor in subsequent spring
If at least 15% of released birds are seen again:
- Foster five to 10 groups of captive-reared juveniles aged five to eight weeks (10-15 juveniles per group) to barren wild-living pairs (i.e. local wild stock or re-established birds), individuals or barren groups in August. Do not try to foster to a wild brood, even if your juveniles seem to be the same age, as this will definitely fail. Do not attempt to foster juveniles before they are five weeks old, because young juveniles that lose contact with their foster parents will die. If you try to foster juveniles that are older than eight weeks, they are likely to reject their foster parents and disperse.
- Release another batch of 10 reared family groups in October/November.
- Monitor in autumn and spring.
- Intensify management where you find most birds, as this is the area with the highest potential (core area).
- Repeat until the newly-established population is self-sustainable. This will probably take at least five years.
If, despite your best efforts, you have not seen more than 15% of released birds again:
- Identify the cause of the losses, address the problem and start again. If the problem is not obvious, ask a GWCT advisor for assistance or contact us on 01425 651013.
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What's inside your FREE guide
✓ Background to releasing
✓ Guidelines for grey partridge re-establishment
✓ Measures needed for re-establishment
✓ Tips and tricks - releasing
✓ Husbandry practices
✓ Tips and tricks - rearing for release
✓ Summary of IUCN guidelines on re-introductions