The Grey Partridge

(Perdix perdix), is a gamebird in the pheasant family

The preferred habitat of the Grey Partridge is low-intensity arable crops and rough field margins, a habitat which has undergone significant change in modern times. The bird has become locally extinct due to modern changes in agricultural practices and a reduction in predator control. As a ground nesting bird they are particularly vulnerable to predation. They favor verge vegetation in arable farmland for nest sites and the main diet of the young chicks are insects. The birds are well known for their distinctive lifecycle which has a number of distinct milestones. 


Historical Background


An inability to adapt to modern farming and predator management results in localised extinction:


The Grey Partridge is a farmland game bird that has experienced a turbulent modern history. Until the mid to late 19th century the bird thrived in Ireland’s low intensity arable farming landscape and was a stable game bird throughout the island. In the early to mid-20th century farm practices changed dramatically with farm intensification and significantly less traditional arable crops being grown. By the 1930’s the population of the Grey Partridge was so endangered that legislation prohibiting the shooting of grey partridge was introduced and birds from abroad were also released to boost some of the remaining native populations. This reprieve allowed the bird to remain in localised clusters and even expand into less productive areas in the west where it had previously been unknown. 

However as the birds preferred habitat of low intensity cultivated fields dwindled in number the bird’s population once again became under threat.The bird survived in small isolated fields on the traditional small holding where a field of oats was often grown. From the mid-20th century onwards the yield off small acreage arable became less competitive and dwindled to redundancy. Occurring in tandem with the well documented and dramatic changes in agricultural practices throughout the 20th century was the silent and often unnoticed, but no less dramatic changes in the control of predators and the reduction in local game and wild fowling.

Time poor farmers, who often had off farm employment and ever higher yield targets to meet, increased the use and intensity of machinery to manage stock and crops.

This resulted in a significant and direct loss of predator control effort. A farmer who would have walked his field boundaries with a gun under his arm twice a week was less present in the countryside and reliant more and more on local gun clubs to check the population of predators. Local Game and wild fowling clubs
took up the mantel with enthusiasm but due to a myriad of reasons the practice of regularly walking farmland beats and systematic predator control has become less common and less regular in modern times. 

By the early 1990’s the bird’s inability to adapt to modern farming habitats and techniques coupled with its vulnerability to predation resulted in localised extinction in all but a hand full of areas. It was at this point that the National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC) undertook a series of national surveys to identify the remaining native populations. Two populations were found with one in an area containing cutaway bogland at Boora, Co. Offaly, today Borra is host to the last population of native wild Grey Partridge in Ireland. 

The Irish Grey Partridge Conservation Project was set up to ensure the conservation of the Borra population and over time reintroduce the bird to other counties and areas throughout the island of Ireland. The Inch Island Partridge project in Co. Donegal is one of four reintroduction projects which have been started with the support and guidance of the National Association of Regional Game Council and the Irish Grey Partridge Conservation Project.