Shooting estates have been recognised for their conservation efforts at the annual awards, with this year’s winner spearheading a wild grey partridge revival in Northern Ireland

Portloughan Shoot in Strangford, County Down, has won the 2016 Purdey Gold Award for Game and Conservation.

The Purdey awards have been held annually since 1999 and each year the judges seek to celebrate the best game conservation projects to be found across the country.

“They show what a well-run shoot can do to preserve and develop nature and wildlife,” said Richard Purdey, praising this year’s winners. “They also display great leadership and demonstrate what the shooting and farming communities can achieve by working together.”

Presentation in the historic Long Room

David Sandford, owner of the Portloughan Shoot, was presented with his trophy and £5,000 by countryside broadcaster and TV personality Julia Bradbury at the Purdey Long Room earlier this month.

Mr Sandford was praised for his “exceptional vision and leadership” in successfully re-establishing a sustainable population of wild grey partridges on 2,000 acres of farmland, where none had existed for decades.

He persuaded 21 neighbouring farmers to join him in working together under Northern Ireland’s Countryside Management Scheme. The farmers put in place wild bird cover, rough grass margins and high over-wintered stubbles, as well as lapwing fallow plots, beetle banks and wide arable headlands sown with “grey partridge” seed mix. They transformed a total area of 2,000 acres of former grassland into interconnecting arable strips ideal for wild grey partridge habitat.

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The wild grey partridge

The judging panel, which was led by the Duke of Wellington, was not only impressed by the shoot, but also by Mr Sandford’s success in leading and co-ordinating such an ambitious project. They commented: “By providing appropriate habitats, Mr Sandford is not only enabling [the grey partridge’s] return, but his shoot’s conservation work is enriching Northern Ireland’s wildlife and natural biodiversity.”

Wild grey partridge restoration project

Second place went to Richard Wills, owner of the Portway estate at Longparish in Hampshire, who took home the silver award and £3,000. For the past eight years, Mr Wills has also been heading up a wild grey partridge restoration project, alongside a wild pheasant and red-legged partridge shoot. His aim is to achieve a sustainable, shootable surplus, and with a spring count of 65 pairs of wild greys, from one pair in 2008, he believes he is close to achieving his ambition.

The bronze trophy went to Kelly Partridge Hicks who has “managed and developed an exemplary conservation-driven commercial shoot” with her husband Stephen since they acquired Little Haugh Hall and its 65-acre farm, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, in 1997.

The couple added a further 350 acres in 2003 and, by partnering with neighbouring landowners, the shoot is now run over 2,000 acres, with the revenue helping to fund several “outstanding” conservation projects.