A SMALL part-time shooting syndicate in County Durham has been rewarded for its work in boosting rare grey partridge numbers.

The Rookhope Syndicate, which manages 2,000 acres of moorland in Weardale, has been awarded the 2008 Durham and Northern Dales Grey Patridge Group Trophy.

Judges from the Game & Wildlife Trust praised the huge management effort of the three part-time keepers – Geoff Oliver, Lenny Willis and George Hopper.

Over the years they have supported and boosted the grey partridge, which lives on the hill-fringe, through supplementary feeding, habitat management and predator control.

This in turn has helped other vulnerable ground-nesting birds such as the black grouse, lapwing and curlew.

The trophy was presented to the trio by sponsor David Gray, of Gray’s Chartered Surveyors.

He said: “While most interest is generally in lowland grey partridges, this area has a strong population of hill fringe partridges which inhabit the moorland edge and in–bye ground.

“It is with great pleasure that I present this award to the Rookhope Syndicate who work so hard to manage their grey partridge population.”

The wild grey partridge is one of the fastest declining farmland birds.

Once a common sight, it has disappeared from large tracts of the countryside and its population has dropped from more than a million pairs in the 1950s to just 75,000 in 2000.

In an effort to reverse the decline the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust has set up regional groups and runs a national grey partridge count scheme.

Henrietta Appleton, of the trust’s advisory service, said: “The significance of the Rookhope Syndicate winning the trophy is that it shows you do not have to be a large estate to get involved in grey partridge conservation.

“It’s just a question of putting in that extra bit of effort, even on a part-time basis.

“We are very keen to encourage more farmers and landowners to sign up to the partridge count scheme and to actively manage their land for the grey partridge and thus have a chance to win this wonderful trophy.”

For further information on the Durham and Northern Dales Grey Partridge Group, or to join the Partridge Count Scheme, contact Neville Kingdon on 01425-651066 or email nkingdon@gct.org.uk.