SHOOTING estates are being asked to take stock after one of the worst breeding years for partridges since records began.
Last May and June were the wettest on record which was bad news for all breeding birds It rained from when the birds were put in their pens and as the wet weather continued many were released much later than normal.
The rain also badly affected the nesting of wild birds and survival rates were drastically reduced.
The wet weather forced birds to find deep shelter and they were not to be found where expected, making a gamekeeper’s role particularly challenging in many cases.
The end result meant that the overall quality of birds wasn’t good and experts say every effort needs to be made to rectify it this year.
Good management now will make a considerable difference later, according to land agent Ewan Harris of Wooler-based Sale and Partners. “With the shooting season over, there is no time like the present to take stock and look at how you manage your estate to get the best sport in 2013,” he said.
“Review your overall season to identify what did and didn’t work.
“Take a special note of how effective game crops such as kale were this season.
“Now is the time to consider long-term crops such as canary grass which will do away with the annual challenge of having to sow plots.
“Given the hard time that wild game has had, it is important to boost breeding stocks by continuing to feed well into the spring.
“Make sure there is enough food for breeding birds and move feeders from woods to the woodland edge of hedges.
“Do all you can to protect wild game, particularly the iconic grey partridge. This is one of our oldest game birds and it has suffered very badly.
“Make sure that you provide a secure breeding area which offers as much protection from predators as possible.”
Shooting estates are being asked not to kill grey partridges after numbers have plummeted by 80% in 40 years.
The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) think numbers have dropped to a dangerously low 45,000 pairs in the wild.
The crisis has prompted the GWCT to call on the shooting community not to kill grey partridges this year – either on purpose or accidentally.
Unlike pheasants which are bred and released into the wild, it is much more difficult to put down grey partridges for shooting.
It is much more common to shoot red-legged or French partridges, which are easier to breed and release.
The GWCT is also asking farmers to work hard to ensure there are field margins for partridges to feed and breed and provide seed leading up to the spring.