The grey partridge is the only one of the common gamebird species whose bag index since 1961 is consistently less than 1. Indeed, it reached an all-time low of 0.11 in 2007, indicating that bags had dropped by almost 90% since 1961. This is the species that is least suitable for mass rearing, and it is rare for it to be released in large numbers. Accordingly, the releasing index (bars in the graph) never exceeds 3, so since 1961 numbers released have no more than tripled. The peak of releasing was in the 1990s, and releases have fallen back steadily over the last 15 years to now lie at just under twice the number released at the start of the series. These low levels of releasing mean that bags are dependent on wild production. This is most obvious in the 1975-76 spike in the bag index, but is also apparent in the most recent years, as a combination of good summer weather in 2010-11 and habitat enhancement through the Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship schemes resulted in improved breeding success.
Grey partridges continue to decline nationally, so it is important to conserve them. Count them and avoid shooting them if there are fewer than 20 birds per 100 hectares (250 acres) in the autumn. Take particular care during driven redleg shooting not to shoot wild greys at the same time (see our newly revised guide Conserving the grey partridge).
Likewise, greys should be released for shooting only when there is no risk to wild stocks. In fact, the decline in numbers released since the 1990s, which is in stark contrast to the trend in released pheasants or redlegs, implies commendable restraint and awareness by shoots.
Index of grey partridge bags and numbers released from 1961 to 2011 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations). Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.