Game warning for endangered partridge

The grey partridge is on the verge of extinction in many areas of the country and immediate action must be taken to save it, the Game Conservancy Trust has warned.

The wettest summer since records began has added to the problems of the species, which has already suffered an 86% decline in the past 30 years.

Dr Nick Sotherton, head of research with the trust, said: "The wet summer has been a total wash-out for young partridge chicks struggling for survival and urgent conservation action needs to be taken by all those with a responsibility for managing the British countryside."

The Trust blamed many factors for the decline of grey partridges, including herbicides and pesticides, which reduce the chicks' natural food. Suitable habitats for brood-rearing and nesting have also declined at the same time as the number of predators, such as foxes, rats, stoats, magpies and crows have risen.

The Trust claims controlling the number of predators would help grey partridge numbers and cites a six-year experiment on Salisbury Plain, in which predator control increased partridge breeding stock in spring by 35% each year and resulted in an increased number of birds in August by 75% each year.

Sotherton said: "Without the right sort of habitat, partridges and their young have nowhere to hide and are therefore extremely vulnerable to predation. Many predators are opportunistic, and as a result an entire family can be knocked out in one go. However, predator control needs to be selective and only carried out when necessary."

Numbers have dropped from over a million grey partridges in Edwardian times to just 145,000 in the early 1990s. Today, estimates suggest this figure has halved again. The Trust believes the species can be saved and has put together an action plan which includes creating suitable habitats, controlling predators, providing food during the winter, counting bird numbers and reducing the use of insecticides. The Trust pointed out that farmers can earn money from the government for creating habitats for grey partridges.

"It's not difficult," said Sotherton. "Indeed, many small things added together will make a huge difference and we urge all those with an interest in saving this magnificent bird to implement our five-point plan. We have the science; we just need to turn this science into action."

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