Partridges up a tree

CBC/BBS UK graph
Grey Partridge smoothed trend – source

I’m pretty sure that most readers of this blog won’t be looking in pear trees for their partridges but even looking around the edges of arable fields you may struggle to see many of them.

Despite all the excellent work that has been done to study the grey partridge (much of which is summarised in Dick Potts’s excellent New Naturalist, reviewed by me for Birdwatch ) their population trend is one of unmitigated decline.

Thanks to the GWCT we know why the grey partridge is declining and what needs to be done to stop it declining and yet still it declines.  Generally speaking the solutions that have been rolled out are those of exhortation and friendly advice – and yet not enough farmers and landowners have done enough of the right things in order to make much difference to the fate of the ‘English partridge’.  You could say things would be far worse if all this effort had not been expended and I agree that things would be a bit worse and yet it is hardly a great success of the Big Society model of saving the world (or the partridges that live in it).

No, our partridges are up a gum tree.

In a recent letter in The Times the chief executive of the GWCT wrote: The RSPB has described the latest figures on turtle doves and grey partridges as a wildlife disaster (report Dec 7). However, our studies show that much effort is being implemented to save the “grey”. In a recent study in Animal Biodiversity and Conservation, grey partridges had increased by 81 per cent on farms and shooting estates that are participating in the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) partridge count scheme. The reason for this conflicting picture is that estates within the scheme are following the GWCT’s recommendations for improving the environment for partridges. This research has influenced government policy, which now allows land managers to recover much of the cost of grey partridge habitat creation. The future fate of partridges in the UK rests on the balance between the economics of agricultural production, agri-environment measures and the commitment of the shooting community.

Grey partridges looking a bit miserable at Altcar Moss - but then if you were in steep decline you wouldn't look that happy either.  Mike Pennington [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Grey partridges looking a bit miserable at Altcar Moss – but then if you were in steep decline you wouldn’t look that happy either. Mike Pennington [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

9 Replies to “Partridges up a tree”

  1. As agriculture created the big population [75 million ] Agriculture also created the fall to 3 million [My review in Bird watching magazine]. The book is also about Red legged Partridge and given that it is easier to release Red legs to gain enough to shoot most estates will do this than try and play a game with Greys. With so many Birds of Prey shot to keep Grey Partridge numbers up most conservationists will need to watch their step when promoting the estates with Grey Partridge.

  2. It seems bad that the only places in most instances of Grey Partridges doing really well are on shooting estates that are in all probability controlling as they see it animals and birds that may take some Grey Partridge.
    What a pity that hardly any farms without shooting interest seem to get involved in increasing numbers.Very topical.

  3. It’s strange as I it never occured to me that Grey Pat’s were in trouble. I see them all the time, even during this summer I saw a female with three juve’s in tow walk past the hide at Summerleys (look in the field opposite the carpark Mark, plenty in there!). But I also know of a place were they did shoot birds and Grey’s were raised, now oddly for a shooting estate it did have 2 Redkites, Buzzards, Kestrel, Little Owl and a Sparrowhawk, so becareful tarring ALL shooting estates with the same brush, this place closed due to lack of interest and just left the Grey Pat’s to roam around, my best count there was 20 individuals….but the thing is I find it hard to care about Partridges, is that wrong?

    1. Douglas – I don’t see them as often as you at Summer Leys. but then I don’t go to Summer Leys that often either. Maybe over the next few days if only it were to stop raining.

  4. Mark,how strange,to me Grey Partridge just as important as Badgers but hardly any comments on G P.If blog had been about Badgers about 50 comments.

    1. Dennis – well, it is Christmas. I hope you are having a good one. Weather is a bit rubbish isn’t it?

  5. There should be a minimum standard of wildlife management “tied” to every farming grant….its not going to happen by itself. GP management? No need for anything special….if every farm just made a wee bit room, everything would benefit.
    Back in the 1940’s environmental legislation was split into two broad areas with a different approach to each area….one route was based on standards and enforcement through fines, the other the gentler route of “the voluntary principle”.
    We quickly managed to get clean air and rivers…..wildlife is still on the edge……….
    The voluntary principle simply does not work.

  6. Somebody mentioned not getting very excited about Grey Partridges. I always get excited when I see them on the farm simply because there aren’t many of them. Some of the land we farm has a large redleg shoot and it does nothing for me seeing dozens of the tame things at every turn, but a chance encounter with a covey of wild Grey Partridges is always a joy. Maybe I don’t want them to become too common, but if every farm could hold the 10 or so pairs we have they would be secure. I think it is unrealistic to expect to return to the numbers we had back in the 60’s, but we can all do our bit to reverse the decline, and the key to this is habitat as they must be able to stand on their own two feet, and not exist just because every predator has been removed from the local area.

  7. Grey Partridge is a beautiful bird and an integral part of the farmland bird community. My experience talking to landowners in Lincolnshire is that most of them are aware of its plight to the extent that on some estates shooting them is seen as “bad form”, if that attitude was more widespread we would have more Grey Partridges.

    In a rural county like Lincolnshire most farmland birds are still much more widespread and holding up better than other areas. Here is some 2011 data on incidence of Grey Partridge per 1km square from the BBS for Lincs compared to the rest of the UK to illustrate the point. Lincs 31.7% UK 6.4%.

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