New PARTRIDGE crops are growing in Scotland

Thursday, July 20, 2017 - Published by Paul Stephens
The PARTRIDGE project, part-funded by the EU North Sea Region Development Fund, which GWCT is running with many partners across northern Europe, is now well underway.

We are hoping to improve the measures available to farmers across the region in national agri-environment schemes by demonstrating what can be achieved with simple, targeted management prescriptions. This demonstration is taking place at ten 500ha sites, two each in Scotland, England, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands, where site managers are all trying to improve existing habitats and introduce new ones so that at least 7% of the area is devoted to Grey Partridge habitats.

The main focus of the new habitats being created is cover crops, with novel mixes being designed in each country to best exploit local growing conditions, national regulations and the needs of Grey Partridges. In Scotland with the help of Kings Crops, we have designed a simple mix of phacelia, buckwheat, vetch and crimson clover at our Balgonie Estate site to provide around 6ha of brood-rearing cover. Despite the challenging growing conditions, this seems to be developing nicely and is providing open cover under which chicks should be able to forage for the insects that are so crucial to them at this time of year.

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Nice, open cover provided by the new GWCT/Kings brood-rearing cover mix at Balgonie Estate.

At our other site at Whitburgh Farms, we have introduced a cover crop designed to provide resources all year round. This was developed by GWCT’s Francis Buner and Oakbank seed merchants and consists of many annuals, biennials and perennial plants, so that, if managed correctly, it can provide brood-rearing, nesting and winter escape cover. The secret here is to sow this mix in relatively large blocks (at least 1ha) or wide strips (at least 20m), and then cut half of the crop each year so as to maintain a short, open portion of the crop (the brood-rearing part) alongside a taller, denser area (the nesting and escape-cover).

The areas sown with this mix at Whitburgh are of a variety of sizes as a trial, but many are doing well, though in some areas we have fallen-fowl of the recent dry periods of weather with poor germination – not a problem we often suffer with in Scotland!

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Brood-rearing cover at Balgonie Estate has been sown in large blocks at the ends of potato fields

Throughout this project we are carefully monitoring the local populations of Grey Partridge and a host of other wildlife and ecosystem services, to record the impacts these and other measures are likely to have. We also hope that farmers and policy makers will attend various events on site over the next few years to see for themselves how things are progressing, and if you are interested in doing this, please keep your eyes open for details on our website.