The wild grey partridge, immortalised in the traditional Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, is one of our most rapidly declining farmland birds, having suffered a massive 86 per cent decline over the past forty years. To secure the future of this iconic Christmas species, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) is appealing to farmers and gamekeepers to extend their festive cheer to grey partridge conservation this winter.
To help ensure it does not become part of Christmas past, the Hampshire-based research charity, has devised a ‘New Year Action Plan’ that farmers, gamekeepers and conservationists can implement in order to aid the recovery of this once familiar farmland bird.
Professor Nick Sotherton, Director of Research with the GWCT said, “The GWCT has spearheaded a massive campaign to halt the decline of this quintessentially English farmland bird. As well as running an extensive 40-year research programme into why grey partridges have declined so drastically, the research has led to the development of methods for re-establishing vital habitats that have been lost through changing agriculture practices.”
Partridges are very specific in their requirements. They need all-year round habitats that provide nesting, and brood rearing cover for food and shelter. In the coldest months of winter they also need additional food such as wheat provided in feed hoppers. As ground-nesting birds they also need protection from predators.
Professor Sotherton says, “Our “New Year Action Plan” will ensure that all these aspects are catered for and if implemented on a national basis, this could be the turning point in the fortunes of this once common bird. This could help safeguard its presence for many Christmases to come.”
‘New Year Action Plan’ for wild grey partridges
- Start filling hopper feeders with wheat and keep feeding your wild birds until May so that they survive through the leanest winter months. This extra food also means that they go into the breeding season in better condition.
- Buy triticale seeds and then plant it in 3 – 6 metre strips around field edges in March. These unsprayed conservation headlands provide excellent brood rearing habitat and will be full of juicy insects, which young chicks need when they first hatch.
- Reserve an area to plant a mixture of kale, millet and triticale in spring. These plants will provide an excellent seed source for feeding birds next winter.
- Plant chicory seeds in strips and leave for a few years. When fully grown these strips provide wonderful hiding places and help protect partridges from predators such as sparrowhawks.
- Create ‘beetle banks’ by planting cock’s foot grass on a raised bank across the middle of big fields. Partridges love to nest in beetle banks and they are also excellent habitats for owls, harvest mice and predatory beetles.
- Provide protection from predators such as foxes and crows as these can severely reduce a vulnerable ground-nesting partridge population.
- Join the GWCT’s free Partridge Count Scheme (PCS). Joining the scheme means that the GWCT will provide free conservation advice targeted at grey partridge recovery. Members of the PCS also return partridge counts twice a year and this helps to assess the success of conservation efforts and indicates where more effort is required.
Professor Sotherton, said, “Our Christmas wish this year is that more farmers and landowners will pledge to support grey partridge recovery in the New Year. The appalling weather conditions over the last two years have not been good for grey partridges, but to counteract this, some land managers have gone that extra mile and put in exceptional management efforts to help this iconic bird. This is making a huge difference and we have witnessed an encouraging three-fold increase in bird numbers in areas being actively managed. But we need more people to come on board. An added bonus is that this management is helping other species as well, particularly, brown hare, corn bunting and yellowhammer.”
For more information on grey partridge conservation or to join the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Grey Partridge Count Scheme, please contact Neville Kingdon on 01425 652381 or visit the Trust’s website: www.gwct.org.uk/partridge
Photocaption: Two partridges, not in a pear tree. Photocredit: Peter Thompson.
Notes to editors
The Big Farmland Bird Count: The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is running the biggest farmland bird count ever conducted in this country and is urging farmers, landowners and gamekeepers to take part. The aim of the count is to determine how bird species are faring on farmland in this country and to see how the many conservation measures now being implemented by land managers are helping to reverse the decline of some of our most threatened farmland birds. The count will take place between 1 – 7th February 2014 Visit the GWCT’s website for more information and count forms: www.gwct.org.uk/bfbc
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife for the past 70 years. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats and we lobby for agricultural and conservation policies based on science. We employ 20 post-doctoral scientists and 40 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse. For Information, contact: Morag Walker – Head of Media, Telephone – 01425-652381 (direct 01425-651000) Mobile – 07736-124097 www.gwct.org.uk