Head of Interreg PARTRIDGE Dr Francis Buner provides some useful tips on how to safeguard wild grey partridges and other gamebirds during periods of torrential rain
HAVING around three months of rain fall in a matter of days could have severe effects on nesting wild gamebirds such as the grey partridge.
These conditions can particularly affect the survival of the breeding hen and young broods (partridge chicks up to three weeks of age) if they can’t get dry or find food to keep body temperatures at normal rates.
Therefore, as reported in today’s Shooting Times (June 19th), here is some additional advice you can follow to reduce the adverse effects of prolonged rainy conditions to help this red-listed bird survive;
- Provide suitable field margins to allow partridges to dry out quickly after heavy rain. Such margins could be sterile strips, annual arable margins or wild bird seed cover that is managed in a rotation (with an annual and perennial part) that offer substantial amounts of open ground. Partridges that have to walk/forage through crops or dense grass margins get very soaked which is a common reason for mass mortality among partridge chicks. All these habitat options are available under agri-environment schemes (AES).
- Provide spring pairs (especially important for hens) with supplementary food until the end of April. We know from pheasant research that hens that had access to supplementary food, increase their body condition in such a way that they will be able to lay more eggs for their second clutch, in case the first attempt fails (hen body condition had no effect on the size of the first clutch). As no similar research for grey partridge exists, we currently assume that the same is the case for them (they are both Galliformes).
- If supplementary winter food is provided, great care must be taken, not to feed rats. This will be done by installing a rigorous rat control programme across the whole game recovery programme area. If this can’t be done (or rats can’t be kept away from feeders), no supplementary feeding should take place, as the disadvantages may outweigh the benefits for ground-nesting birds such as partridges. Rats are expected to negatively affect breeding success of grey partridge as they can take their eggs (however, no scientific evidence exists at this stage that is able to quantify this effect).
- On farmland with a high risk of flooding (standing water) after heavy rain, beetle banks should be installed (ideally with a hedge of clumps of bushes planted on them – but be aware that this is not allowed under AES). This will allow partridge pairs to select for nesting sites that keep dry also during heavy rainfall. To avoid beetle banks acting as predator traps, habitat blocks or strips of minimum 20m wide should be planted next to each beetle bank. Research from Germany shows that strips wider than 20m have a significantly reduced predation rate of breeding partridge hens caused by foxes.
- Do not disturb wild game during prolonged periods of wet weather, as flushing a young brood can cause high mortality among small chicks.
- Some game managers, especially in wetter regions such as Scotland, install artificial shelters on wild bird estates. However, please be aware that these may attract vermin or other predators or may be a place where diseases or parasites may easily spread. I therefore personally would not encourage this management method.
It's currently too early to tell how partridges and pheasants are doing across Britain but where the necessary steps above have been taken they have the best possible chance of survival until this woeful weather ends.