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Scottish keepers restore wild grey partridges

Scottish gamekeepers and some surrogate bantam hens have helped to bring wild grey partridges back to the Tomatin moors.

Wild grey partridges have been returned to the Tomatin moors in Inverness-shire thanks to local gamekeepers and some unusual help from bantam chickens.

Wild greys had not been seen on the moor since the late 1990s, but in 2011 the team at Clune estate set out to bring them back. Clune headkeeper Duncan Mackenzie explained: “They are native birds but it can be difficult for them to cope with the extremes of weather in Scotland, particularly on high ground. We did some research about how to give them a helping hand and we discovered that sometimes bantam hens will brood the eggs of other species all the way up until they hatch.”

Programme could expand

Deciding to try this unusual method, the team had grey partridge eggs sent from an estate in England and, after several attempts, a batch was reared under bantam hens. There are now 15 pairs of wild grey partridges on moorland at Clune and it is hoped that, as their numbers recover, the programme could expand to other estates along the Findhorn and Dulnain. Keepers at Clune also planted some strategic areas of game crop in the partridges’ favourite territory.

“Those that survived over the first winter took up territories on Corrybrough. The wild pairs sometimes struggle to rear their own broods due to the difficult weather in June. If there are wild pairs that have not managed to rear young they are given the chance to adopt,” added Mr Mackenzie.

“The bantam-reared chicks are put in a pen within the territory of the barren wild pair at eight to 10 weeks old. The youngsters stand a much higher chance of survival over winter if they are adopted by an adult pair of partridges than if they were released on their own. We’ve found that the adults often only take about 24 hours to completely adopt the chicks and act as a family unit.”

Healthy populations

Jenny McCallum, co-ordinator of the Tomatin Moorland Group, said: “This is a small-scale conservation project initiated and managed by the estate’s gamekeeping staff that has resulted in small healthy populations of grey partridge on Corrybrough, Clune and Kinveachy. This initiative is another example of the conservation work taking place on moors throughout Scotland to protect wildlife and create healthy habitats for numerous species.”