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Lowland birds breeding well

It’s generally good news for pheasants and partridges as we contacted keepers across the UK to see how the breeding season in 2017 was coming along.

Breeding season for pheasants

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Cole/REX/Shutterstock (2333844q) A nest of pheasant eggs on the ground Various

Gamekeepers across the UK are reporting strong broods and quality eggs, despite a period of bad weather, with the breeding season under way.

Persistent rain has been an issue, but warm weather followed soon after, preventing too much damage to stocks.

Stuart Maughan, headkeeper on the Whitfield estate in Northumberland, commented: “This breeding season has been very good in the north, especially for birds that have laid earlier on. The pheasants began laying quite early and have remained laying throughout, seeing as we’ve had good, warm weather.

“We’ve had nasty showers and often persistent rain, which will of course have done some damage. Early on, we saw wild broods of pheasants, several with 10-plus young, but typically those numbers have fallen back as the days have gone on, with some possibly lost due to the weather.”

Enough with the rain

Mr Maughan revealed that the estate has yet to see any grey partridge or blackgame broods, adding: “Hopefully they would have been able to sit tight during the rain. The ground needed the rain but we’ve had enough now.”

Francis Buner at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Rotherfield Demonstration Project in Hampshire reported a similar picture: “Things are looking as good as can be at the moment. We began the breeding season with 23 grey partridge pairs, our highest number since the project started. Our first grey partridge brood (between 15 and 20 chicks) was seen in the first week of June — a very good preliminary sign that things are going well this year — together with very promising numbers of good pheasant broods.

“We did have 40mm of rain the other night, but not for longer than 15 hours, followed by a dry and windy day. No harm has been done, I don’t think. Contrary to common belief, partridges and wild birds in general can cope with torrential rainfall, so long as it doesn’t continue for days and is followed by a dry period.”

Near record number of good eggs

Liam Bell, headkeeper at the Millichope Park estate in Shropshire and chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, told us: “In my neck of the woods, the hens have laid well and produced a near record number of good-quality eggs, hatch rates are generally up and most game crops seem to be getting away OK.

“The only real downer has been the unseasonably cold and wet weather since the beginning of June, which has made rearing especially difficult; has checked a few of the later sown millet and sorghum-based crops, and reduced the prospect for wild game, from good-excellent to average-poor. Frustrating though it is, there’s not a lot we can do about the weather.”