This has been one of the worst breeding seasons for the threatened grey partridge in living memory because of the appalling wet weather this summer. In an immediate response, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is warning falconers to be aware of not hunting wild grey partridges this season because of the risk of further catastrophic declines.
Professor Nick Sotherton, director of research with the GWCT said, “This situation is incredibly serious. Early results from the Partridge Count Scheme (PCS) and various estates where GWCT staff assist in counting partridges show that it has been an apocalyptic year for grey partridge breeding success. Most estates that have a sustainable population of wild grey partridges have already made the decision not to shoot greys this season, which reflects the very serious nature of the problem.”
Dr Julie Ewald, a senior scientist with the GWCT says that low chick survival is down to a number of factors. She said, “Even on estates that are carrying out exemplary partridge conservation measures, evidence shows the grey partridge chick survival rate was as low as 15 per cent, and we need at least 33 per cent just to maintain numbers. The appalling weather would have had three key effects; it would have led to direct chick mortality through chilling; starvation through lack of suitable chick food insects and disease through ingesting inappropriate food such as slugs that transfer parasitic infections.”
Although recent counts indicate that chick survival has been disastrous, adult numbers have been maintained. Dr Ewald says, “We are at a critical time for greys and it is vitally important that everyone does all they can to maintain adult numbers over winter and spring so that they can produce new broods next year. They can bounce back really quickly and next summer could make all the difference. But it is vital that we protect the adults this winter, especially by not shooting the adult greys this season.”
Neville Kingdon, the GWCT’s Partridge Count Scheme co-ordinator says, “Everyone must pull together this season. Don’t despair if the autumn counts are slim, work hard to ensure that you look after the stock that remains because next autumn it could be much improved.”
To protect the existing partridge population this winter the GWCT has some helpful advice for falconers:
There are five key actions needed to help this iconic bird:
- You should refrain from targeting grey partridges this season to make sure as many adults breed next year as possible
- farmers and keepers’ can make sure they give partridges extra food this winter and next spring to make sure they start the next breeding season in the best possible condition
- plenty of cover should be provided on the edges of fields for birds to hide in during the late winter and early spring as they can suffer losses of over 50 per cent during this vulnerable time
- land owners and managers should maintain legal predator control because grey partridges are ground-nesting birds and are susceptible to a range of common predators
- All those interested in wild grey partridge conservation should join the Partridge Count Scheme, the largest farmer/keeper led conservation and monitoring scheme for farmers in Europe, and take practical steps to help grey partridges recover
“Now is the time to help this beautiful bird. We know how to maximise the chances of success and with the support of everyone who loves the grey partridge, this set back will be temporary and the future can be secure.” Julie Ewald concluded.
For further information, advice or to join the GWCT’s Partridge Count, please contact Neville Kingdon on 01425 651066 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org