TWO farms have been rewarded for doing their bit to save the wild grey partridge.
Peter Dowson and his son, Phil, have received the 2012 Durham and Northern Dales Grey Partridge Group trophy presented by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), which also awarded the Northumberland Group trophy to Ronald Barber.
The trust said 2012 had been an “apocalyptic year”
for the bird which suffered its worst breeding season since the trust was founded in 1933.
It blames its disastrous decline on the wettest summer for a century and called on farmers to do all they can to help the partridge recover.
The Dowsons farm 321 acres at Eppleby, near Richmond, and have gone the extra mile to support their wild greys.
Winter oilseed rape, potatoes and over-winter stubbles provide important cover from predators.
But the Dowsons also provide additional food for their partridges through supplementary feeding, and control key predators during the nesting and brood rearing season.
These actions have provided invaluable support to the wild greys on their farm.
Henrietta Appleton, a GWCT adviser and one of the judges, said: “While large-scale conservation schemes tend to grab the headlines, the work of farmers such as Peter and Phil are important in conserving the declining populations over wide areas of rural England. “As the Dowsons prove, every little bit helps, especially in difficult years, such as this year.”
Action by Mr Barber has seen impressive population increases at his Melkington Farm, Cornhill-on-Tweed.
Shelters give protection during bad weather and help the birds to improve feather condition by providing a dry dusting area.
They are constructed from corrugated iron set on four wooden posts with a slope from front to back.
Mr Barber placed the shelters next to hopper sites in areas where he had seen grey partridges, such as his grass and cereal margins and wild bird seed mixes, and this led to an increase in his resident grey population.
Henrietta Appleton said: “This combination is the reason why Ronald has seen a significant increase in spring pairs in the past three years and why, despite poor weather during the brood rearing season, he has seen some reasonable coveys this autumn.”
About ten per cent of the farm’s area is dedicated to conservation margins, wild bird seed mixes and overwinter stubbles. They help provide year-round habitat for grey partridges, other farmland birds, and brown hares.
Mr Barber said neighbours John and Sarah Glass had been important contributors to Melkington’s success due to their own dedication in providing wildlife habitat within their traditional mixed farming system.
He said: “It has been a depressing year for partridge conservation and we can only hope and pray that next year we have good weather during the breeding season.”