The Peppering Partridge Project - research in practice

Charlie MellorCharlie Mellor, head gamekeeper at the Norfolk Estate, discusses how, with dedication, support and passion, their wild grey partridge restoration project is proving to be a real success story

Keen readers of our Annual Review and Gamewise members' magazine will be well versed in the success of the Peppering Partridge Project, in which the Duke of Norfolk has not only achieved great success in increasing the numbers of grey partridge on the South Downs, but also shown how shooting and conservation can work together to improve biodiversity.

Being able to increase not only grey partridge numbers, but also many farmland birds, insects and plant life has taken time, effort and enthusiasm from all involved and it is the latter of these that hits you within seconds of talking to Charlie Mellor. Acclaim for the project’s results, including the Purdey Gold Award in 2010, seem only to spur him on to achieve even more and encourage more shoots to do what they can to improve their wild grey partridge numbers.

How has the GWCT’s advice and research helped on the Norfolk Estate?

Dick Potts has been a major influence. His dedication to counting the birds, insects and plant life provides the results which give weight to the project and confidence that we are making real improvements. All of the Trust’s grey partridge work has helped us in one way or another, I follow the ‘three-legged stool’ maxim of habitat, food source and effective predator control to a tee. If all three are present, you can achieve the results that we have shown.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced on the Estate?

Building up and maintaining a sustainable shootable surplus, trying to reduce winter losses through migration and predators.

How important is running a shoot to increasing biodiversity in the region?

We have monitored plant species, birds and invertebrates from day one of the project here and in almost every case we have increased biodiversity. It’s a much healthier place than when we started.

What is the best advice you have received?

Still tongue, wise head. I think it’s important to take time to listen and learn from anyone you can. We always wanted our results to speak for themselves, rather than shout from the rooftops about success before it came.

What advice would you give to other gamekeepers looking to increase grey partridge numbers?

Firstly, if you have any existing wild partridges, don’t foster in any new stock. You will need passion, dedication and patience as it takes a long time to get to where you want, but with all the right practices in place you can achieve it. Finally, you have to work as a team. Everyone involved, the farm staff, foresters, anyone working the land, is a vital part.

What is the next step for the Norfolk Estate?

We just want to keep building on what we have achieved so far. I would like 450-500 pairs (we currently have around 350) and we don’t want to rest on our laurels. I hope the work we have done and what we have achieved will encourage more people to take the plunge and start encouraging their grey partridge population. The more people that see the work the Estate is doing, the greater chance there is of this happening.

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