East Anglia: Grey partridge project scoops award at Norfolk Show

A 10-year project to reverse the decline of the grey partridge brought success for an East Anglian estate.

After finishing runner-up in last year’s Mills & Reeve Grey Partridge Award, Sir Rupert Mann’s Thelveton estate, near Diss, won the trophy yesterday.

Justin Ripman, who also judged the seventh annual competition, told about 350 guests at the annual welcome breakfast it demonstrated that non-traditional grey partridge country could make a real contribution.

A young and enthusiastic keeper, Adam Johnson, who had joined from the Walsingham estate in north Norfolk, had helped to boost the number of nesting pairs from 92 to 107 pairs last year.

Sir Rupert was delighted to have won the trophy and said a patchwork approach of cover and grass fallow areas had obviously helped.

The other finalists included long-term supporter of the Norfolk Grey Partridge Group Tom Cook with his Sennowe estate, near Fakenham.

Mr Ripman praised two small farming estates for achieving significant progress.

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Mid-Norfolk farmer Bill Ellison, of Canister Farm, Great Dunham, had increased the number of pairs from three to 12 over the past four years on just 250 acres, and Lee Pilkington, of Home Farm, Stow Bedon, had achieved impressive results on 143 acres.

Mr Ripman’s judging team included Marcus O’Lone, now chairman of the Norfolk Grey Partridge Group in succession to Lord Julian Romney, Roger Draycott, of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Gerald Grey, head keeper of the Hilborough estate.

There was a good breeding season last year, which helped the recovery of grey partridge numbers.

In Norfolk, there was a 19.5pc increase from 5,365 to 6,417 pairs while nationally the spring counting scheme showed a rise from 11,000 to 12,900 pairs.

As Norfolk is home to about 10pc of the national grey partridge, the efforts of about 90 shooting estates is crucial to the long-term recovery of the species by the target date of 2015.