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    • Dr Julie Ewald, Head of GIS for the GWCT, gives an update on the 2017 autumn grey partridge counts in the Sussex Study area.

      The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Sussex Study has monitored the cereal ecosystem on the South Downs from Arundel in the west to Worthing in the east since 1970, investigating declines in numbers of grey partridges across this area of mixed farmland, as well as associated farmland biodiversity and management. 

      Ryan Burrell undertaking grey partridge counts at Amberley in the GWCT's Sussex Study Area © Julie Ewald

      The results of the 2017 counts across the whole of the study area are illustrated below.  The spring pair density across the study area was down on 2016 (Figure 1), reflecting the lower productivity recorded in the summer of 2016 (Figure 2).  The area of the Peppering Partridge Project, where there is management targeted at grey partridge conservation, recorded the highest level of spring pairs (11.9 pairs per 100 ha) compared to the remainder of the Sussex Study (0.7 pairs per 100 ha).  

      Figure 1.  The number of grey partridge spring pairs per 100 ha, calculated from Autumn counts.  These results reflect the study area as a whole

      The productivity across the Sussex Study area was higher in 2017 (2.65 young-to-old ratio, i.e. chicks produced per old bird) than in 2016 (1.76 young-to-old).  Depending on management overwinter (supplementary feeding etc.) and winter weather conditions, this should auger well for grey partridge numbers in the spring of 2018.  Both the area with targeted management (2.81) and the remainder of the Sussex Study area (2.44) had good productivity in 2017.  This was reflected across the whole country in figures reported to the GWCT’s Partridge Count Scheme, with an average of 2.4 chicks produced for every adult bird.  

      Figure 2.  Grey partridge productivity from Autumn counts on the GWCT’s Sussex Study area.  Productivity is calculated by dividing the number of young birds counted by the number of adult birds counted.  This graph highlights the low productivity in the summer of 2016 compared to the summer of 2017.  Of course, no recent year has approached the situation in 2012, when there was less than one grey partridge chick produced per adult bird

      Unfortunately, Dr Dick Potts, who started the Sussex Study all those years ago, passed away in 2017.  He is much missed by all that knew and worked with him, but the GWCT are committed to keeping the work going.  A Fund has been set up in his name to provide small grants for young researchers, farmers, gamekeepers who have an innovative ecology project that needs a little bit of capital to get it going.  Please get in touch if you would like to donate or if you have a project that needs a bit of seed money.  The results of the first round of applications will be announced soon.