Grey Partridge, Red Lists, green and pleasant lands

Fears for the threaten grey partridge after a wet June, plus why are they still allowed to be shot if they’re on the UK Red List of Conservation Concern?

On a reasonably windy day towards the end of September I found myself on an award winning conservation farm in east Bedfordshire. In 2011 Simon Maudlin won the Purdey Game Award for wild conservation, the same year he won the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) East Anglian Grey Partridge Award.

Numbers of grey partridge have risen on his 800 acre family farm from four breeding pairs in 2002 to about 40 breeding pairs today. To do this he’s created beetle banks, planted new hedgerows and wild bird seed mixes, and kept grass margins on fields to help retain wildlife across the seasons.

There’s been a serious decline in the number of grey partridge: we know that 83% disappeared in the 40 years before the millennium. They are now on the Red List of Conservation Concern.

Eventually what we thought was two breeding pairs and four young scooted out of the edge of an open stubble field. All I could really see was the round bobbing heads wobbling between the upright spikes of stubble. They’ve got an orange head and throat and grey legs.

This year there’s concern about the number of young because of the wet June. Young chicks can eat around 2000 insects a day when they hatch in June but the wet weather can wash many of these insects away. The less they eat, they less they plump up and grow feathers to be able to fly. As ground nesting birds they’re susceptible to predation from foxes, rats and stoats which many birds who nest above the ground aren’t affected by.

But why if they are so threatened are they allowed to be shot, as game?

The short answer is that allowing farmers to shoot them gives them an incentive to carry out the conservation to protect the habitat. Roger Draycott from the GWCT told me it tends to only be farmers who are conserving them that harvest them as well and a ban on shooting the bird would not help the population increase as it would be such a strong disincentive to carry out the work needed to maintain their habitat.

Simon explained to me that his land could only support about 50 breeding pairs over the winter and into next spring: neighbouring farms would need to create the appropriate habitat for any more to spread and survive.

“If you have a good population you reward yourself on a shoot day. If you haven’t got a good count in September you hold back from shooting.”

Below is my report for BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today.

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