As the partridge season opens the evidence seems to be that wild greys have struggled with the wet spring and a sullen summer hitting broods, writes Matt Cross in Shooting Times

Wet weather applies several different pressures on grey partridges. As well as chilling chicks, it also forces hen birds to forage for longer periods and to stray further from their nests.

This leaves both hen birds and chicks vulnerable to predation from foxes, stoats and crows. “As thunderstorms struck southern England in July, grey partridge chicks would have been desperately sheltering from the rain,” explained Dr Julie Ewald, Head of Geographic Information System (GIS) at the GWCT. “This unseasonal weather makes good farmland habitat even more important, reducing the distance chicks need to forage and the risk of predation by foxes and other predators.”

Grey partridges decline

Intensification of agriculture and increased numbers of predators have driven a huge population decline with numbers of the birds, dropping by 83% in the last 40 years and shooting estates in the east of England are now their only remaining stronghold. Gamekeepers in East Anglia confirmed that the birds are struggling. In Norfolk, wild bird keeper Darren Wright said his greys were “surviving” before adding that, “I have one early brood of 10 that are thriving on 80 acres of pea stubble, other broods have dwindled down to an average of 5 or 6.”

Grey partridges lay the largest clutches of any British ground nesting bird, with 15 eggs being common. In Cambridgeshire, Ed Coles reported a similar situation. “They’re doing ok,” Ed said. “The number of pairs has stayed the same at 22 but brood size is down this year. We are seeing lots of twos and fours, a few five to sixes.”

Darren explained that “The weather hasn’t been cold, but just constant dull and cloudy and the insect life seems ok.” Darren works closely with farmers to help the birds and he told Shooting Times that, “We have a progressive mowing policy that gives chicks/young birds some short grass to pick about on and dry out.”

Outlook good for other wild gamebirds

However, both keepers reported that other wild gamebirds were looking good. Darren said: “Interestingly, resident redlegs have had a great breeding season; we have many broods of various ages that are flourishing.” While Ed reported that, “oddly pheasants have done really well this year.”