The wild grey partridge, recently described as one of our most rapidly declining farmland birds, is fighting back and showing an 81 per cent increase on land that is being specifically managed for this iconic species.
A new review published in the science journal Animal Biodiversity and Conservation offers renewed hope for grey partridges by identifying the three main causes of its decline – loss of nesting habitat, poor chick survival through insect loss and increased predation pressure.
The study also identifies the most effective solutions for fast-tracking recovery.
The review, carried out by Dr Nicholas Aebischer, deputy director of research with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), highlights that where land managers are specifically targeting grey partridge recovery by providing year-round habitat management, supplementary feeding and predator control, the birds are showing an impressive rise in numbers.
Dr Aebischer says: "The GWCT's Partridge Count Scheme (PCS), which has been monitoring partridge numbers on participating estates nationwide for more than 70 years, has shown a significant 81 per cent increase in partridge pairs from 2000 to 2010. Our count scheme clearly demonstrates that we know exactly what to do to reverse the decline of grey partridges.
"It would be an absolute travesty if we were to lose this iconic species through lack of effort, not through lack of knowledge."
For the past 40 years the GWCT has developed scientifically proven ways to improve the environment for partridges in the UK.
This research has influenced UK government policy, which now includes one of the most conservation-orientated and flexible agri-environment schemes in Europe. This forward-thinking scheme now enables land managers to claim back their costs for creating specific habitats for grey partridge, based on GWCT recommendations.
Dr Aebischer adds: "Land and shoot managers are key to grey partridge recovery and education is crucial for raising awareness and encouraging them to undertake sympathetic management.
"The future fate of the grey partridge rests on the balance between the economics of agricultural production, agri-environment measures and shooting. We believe that the different strands of the GWCT recovery programme form a package that, coupled with the government's agricultural reforms offers genuine hope for the recovery of the grey partridge in the UK."
The GWCT publishes a range of free fact-sheets that are available to those wishing to boost the wild grey partridge population. They can be downloaded from: www.gwct.org. uk/documents/factsheet1restoring wildgp08_1.pdf.
The GWCT also welcomes new members to its free Partridge Count Scheme, which provides help and support for those involved in partridge conservation join at www.gwct.org.uk/partridge or telephone: 01425 652381.