The GWCT is leading on a new demonstration project involving five countries across northern Europe (Scotland, England, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany). Supported by the EU North Sea Region programme (Interreg), the PARTRIDGE Project aims to show by demonstration how farmland biodiversity can be encouraged via the implementation of measures known to benefit 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 area. In Scotland, these are Whitburgh Farms in Midlothian and Balgonie Estate in Fife – both sites already carrying out some work to encourage grey partridge. At all of the demonstration sites the management teams are working to increase the area of grey partridge habitats to at least 7% (around 35ha) of the total area over the next year or two – this is currently thought to be the area necessary for grey partridges to thrive.
These habitats must 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 concept (at least in the UK) of growing a cover crop that consists of a mix of annual, biennial and perennial species designed locally to provide all a grey partridge needs through the year.
This will be 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. This then creates excellent chick-foraging conditions (within the sparser, newly sown half of the patch) and nesting/escape cover (in the taller, denser, more mature half) next to each other within the same patch. As well as habitat measures, all sites will be introducing winter hopper feeding in accordance with the GWCT’s newly published guidelines, and some sites are considering providing nest protection via electric fencing.
Over the next four years of the project, we will be carefully monitoring the response of grey partridges on the demonstration sites to the changes in management, along with that of brown hares and breeding farmland songbirds – both key to demonstrate any wider benefits of the project.
Obviously an important component of this project will be convincing others of the need to change practices, so we hope to make the demonstration sites key locations for local practitioner events and places where we can encourage policy makers and influencers to visit. If you’re interested in coming along to one of our future events, please let us know. Further information can be found on the project website. This is still under construction but will soon have up-to-date information on the project and those involved.
Top: Peter Thompson discussing grey partridge management requirements with project partners on a visit to Cranborne Estate.
Bottom: Sowing of habitat measures at Balgonie Estate.