Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge

In America, where it was introduced, the grey partridge is known as the Hungarian partridge or Hun. In Britain it’s often referred to as the Englishman, an indication of our affection for the “little brown bird” and its past ubiquity.

Wild partridge shoots, correctly known as “partridge manors”, were common before the Second World War in the Home Counties, East Anglia, Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire. Shooting records show that these areas commonly supported bags of more than 20 birds killed per square kilometre. Some of the bags were prodigious. On October 18-21, 1887, at The Grange Estate, Hampshire, seven guns shot 4,109. A decade later, at Houghton, Norfolk, the guns bagged 4,316 in four days.

Not all birds were driven in this golden era. For many Guns, prior to the Second World War, walking up partridges over stubbles was the mainstay of sport, which is why English game-guns traditionally have less choke in the right barrel, a configuration best suited to dealing with going-away birds.

The wild grey partridge has declined massively in modern times, falling by 82% between 1970 and 1998. There were more than a million pairs in the Fifties; in 2000 there were just 75,000. The decline was caused chiefly by the adoption of monoculture cereal farming, leading to a loss of insects on which the young chicks depend. The reductions in nesting habitat and increased predation have also affected them adversely.

Sportsmen lead the efforts to restore the bird’s fortunes. In 2007, first prize in the Purdey Awards for Game and Conservation was given to the Duke of Northumberland’s Ratcheugh Project, where the Duke, his keepers and Velcourt Farms, built up the population from five breeding pairs to 200 in four years. The Duke of Norfolk emulated Northumberland’s success in 2010, winning the Awards with his conservation project at the Peppering Shoot, West Sussex. In just seven years, spring partridge pair counts rose from three to 262, allowing a bag of 56 wild greys to be made in October 2010.