The GWCT is leading on an important demonstration project in Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Supported by the EU via the Interreg North Sea Region programme, the PARTRIDGE project aims to demonstrate how farmland biodiversity can benefit from measures developed for the grey partridge (a key umbrella species of farmland ecosystems) and consequently how agri-environment schemes can be improved across the region to better facilitate increases in farmland wildlife.
In each country there are two demonstration sites of around 500ha. In Scotland, these are Whitburgh Farms in Midlothian and Balgonie Estate in Fife – both sites already carrying out some work to encourage grey partridge. All of the demonstration site teams have been working to increase the area of grey partridge habitats to at least 7% (around 35ha) of the total area – this is currently thought to be the area necessary for grey partridges to thrive.
The habitats provide secure nesting sites; insect-rich, accessible areas for foraging chicks; and escape cover during the winter. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, and indeed the measures implemented in each country will vary to a degree. However, each site is trying out a relatively new type of cover crop. This is a mix of annual, biennial and perennial species designed locally to provide all a grey partridge needs through the year.
The cover crop is sown in large blocks or strips (larger patches are known to suffer lower nest-predation rates than smaller areas) and then managed so that each year the older half of the patch is mulched or similar, and then resown at a reduced rate (if necessary). This then creates excellent chick-foraging conditions (within the sparser half of the patch) and nesting/escape cover (in the taller, denser half) next to each other. As well as habitat measures, all sites have started introducing winter hopper feeding – Whitburgh already does this but Balgonie has 30 newly installed hoppers attracting all kinds of wildlife.
It is too soon to know whether these changes are having an impact – that probably won’t become clear until the end of the project, but we are already attracting lots of attention. All of the demonstration sites have hosted farm walks for farmers, conservationists and policy makers, and the project has already featured in many media articles of one kind or another.
One key aim of this project is to improve future support for biodiversity enhancement on farmland across northern Europe. This is particularly pertinent in Scotland (and the rest of the UK) with Brexit looming. We in Scotland hope to use the PARTRIDGE demonstration sites to influence the ongoing debate for the ultimate betterment of Scottish farmland.