Grey Partridges doing well at a key Scottish demonstration site

Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - Published by Paul Stephens
Many farmers across Scotland (and elsewhere) struggled this year with challenging weather at various key times during the growing and harvest season, with disappointing outcomes for many.

The poor conditions also caused a great deal of concern about how Grey Partridge populations might fare too because newly-hatched chicks are extremely vulnerable to cold, wet weather, as they cannot regulate their own body temperature for some days after hatching.

GWCT has been closely monitoring Grey Partridges at Balgonie Estate, Fife, as this is a key demonstration site for our PARTRIDGE project, supported by the EU’s North Sea Region Interreg programme. This hopes to showcase best-practice Grey Partridge management at demonstration sites across northern Europe to improve future generations of agri-environment schemes, which provide vital financial aid to farmers to help them manage their land in ways beneficial to wildlife.

Grey Partridges at Balgonie have increased in number since new cover crops were introduced to provide food and shelter for the birds, supported by over-winter feeding with grain via hoppers. Hopper-feeding is particularly important from this time of year through to early spring as natural food resources – even in wild bird crops and the like which produce huge volumes of seed just for wintering birds – are running particularly low. This started at Balgonie in early 2017 with the introduction of 18 feeders targeting key locations, and has now been increased to 30 for the 2017/18 winter.

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It seemed to take a while for the birds to find and make regular use of the new sources of food, but the recent cold weather has highlighted just how important they can be with regular sightings of coveys around the feeding stations. There is no doubt that this has contributed to Balgonie’s increasing densities of winter birds, both Grey Partridge and many other seed-eating species (total bird numbers overwinter have increased fourfold of late). If you want to find out how best to do this yourself, guidelines can be downloaded here.