Grey partridges ‘on the rise’ on Suffolk and Essex farms

STEEP DECLINE: A grey partridge, one of the key target species conservationists and farmers are tryi

STEEP DECLINE: A grey partridge, one of the key target species conservationists and farmers are trying to help - Credit: Jon Evans

Researchers looking at the fortunes of one of our fastest-declining farmland birds say they have seen an “encouraging” rise in grey partridge numbers – but want more farmers and landowners to get involved in helping them.

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) Partridge Count Scheme (PCS) co-ordinator Neville Kingdon said the counties recorded improving numbers compared to autumn 2013.

The number of adult and young autumn birds counted by Partridge Count Scheme sites in 2014 was 787, 618 of which were in Suffolk and 169 in Essex. The number of young birds, which are needed to increase a population, recorded by scheme sites increased from 455 in 2013 to 566 in 2014. Suffolk rose from 374 to 432 broods and Essex from 108 to 134.

The important measure of successful productivity, the average number of young per adult (young to old), rose from 2.1 in 2013 to 2.5 in 2014, showing that more chicks survived.

“Thankfully both Young-to-Old have been above the minimum (1.6) needed to ensure a stable population,” said Mr Kingdon. “What we now need are more farmers and land managers following the lead of those already involved by taking an active interest in helping this farmland bird themselves.

“Being involved in the PCS helps takes the guesswork out of what management measures they need to put in place order to help greys on their own land. However, we are still a long way off from the potential of each county. We have estimated that in Suffolk the farmed landscape within the county could support nearly 9,000 pairs of grey partridges and in Essex 7,900 pairs.

“Both counties have excellent productive agricultural land that grey partridge need; it just needs some added conservation habitats to improve their survival and increase numbers.”

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Researchers at the GWCT are hoping for a warm summer this year to repeat the breeding success of 2014, which saw an encouraging 18% overall increase in grey partridges. The 2014 autumn counts revealed that that the total number of grey partridges recorded in its Partridge Count Scheme across the UK increased by 4,730 birds to a total of 33,250 birds.

According to the trust, more than a thousand farmers and gamekeepers are putting their combined weight behind saving this iconic species, and going out twice a year – in spring and autumn – to count them.

For more information, or to get involved in the count, visit: www.gwct.org.uk/pcs or contact Neville Kingdon, Partridge Count Scheme co-ordinator, on 01425 651066 or email nkingdon@gwct.org.uk. As well as receiving feedback PCS members receive regular information and conservation updates and opportunities to attend regional partridge group meetings.