Grey Partridge Conservation

Once upon a time a beautiful bird called the grey partridge was a common sight in the UK…

You may have seen them featured on Christmas cards and in oil paintings, but the chances are you have never actually seen one in real life. This is because their numbers have declined to such an extent that they are now extinct in some areas. Sadly, they were a casualty of modern, intensive farming methods. The expanses of long, tussocky grass which they need for breeding, along with the insects and seeds these provided as food, started to disappear from the landscape as farming became industrialised and land use was maximised for the growing of crops. The widespread use of herbicides and pesticides also took its toll.

This once common native bird is now on the Birds of Conservation Concern ‘red list’. Red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action. Government policy now encourages farmers to make changes to their practices and provide areas for wildlife and birds such as the grey partridge to survive and thrive. New suitable habitats are now in place and breeding and release programmes of grey partridges have been underway across the UK in a bid to increase its numbers… and this is where your school can get involved!

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Where do the eggs come from?

Our grey partridge eggs are ethically and responsibly sourced from a specialist partridge breeder based in Suffolk, who has been dedicated to their conservation for decades. Birds are kept in extremely good, high-welfare, conditions. Partridges hatched are reared to adulthood and paired up. Their eggs are collected when they first come into lay, between March and June. These birds are then themselves released into the wild in July. This means they only spend a short part of their lives in captivity and can go on to live and reproduce naturally. The eggs collected from them are then hatched to provide the next years breeding pairs, and so the cycle continues. It is a brilliant and clever conservation system – young birds are given the best start in life, contribute a few of their eggs for their own conservation and are then released themselves to enjoy the rest of their lives.

How does it work?

We will deliver to the school, set up equipment and give instructions in the same way as we do with chick and duckling eggs – except these eggs will be the eggs of grey partridge. Pupils can watch them hatch and grow and care for them. They can learn all about their history, the habitat they need and what happens if this disappears. Measures have been put in place to remedy past mistakes and now your students can become actively involved in the mission to preserve them.

We will collect all hatched birds, along with our equipment approximately 10 days later. The school will need to sign over ownership of the birds to Incredible Eggs at the end of the hire period.

What resources are provided?

Participating schools will be given a password where they can access our downloadable resources from this website specifically designed for key stages 2, 3 and 4. The science curriculum for this age group lends itself to this type of project, with the focus on nutrition, habitats, environmental change and food chains. All of these areas are explored in our grey partridge resources – a particularly powerful learning tool when used in conjunction with a ‘live’ brief such as this.

Why is this project only being offered to key stages 2, 3 & 4?

Grey partridges are wild birds. They are agile, fast and definitely not ‘cuddly’! The wonder of hatching them is similar to that of chicks or ducklings, but the experience of caring for them is somewhat different to that of a domesticated breed and this should be primarily regarded as an observational project. They cannot be easily handled in the same way as domesticated birds – in fact the less time they are handled the better. We want them to retain their wild instincts, because this is what will help them survive once they are released. The nature of this project lends itself to older children who are at the developmental stage to most benefit from it and this is reflected in the national curriculum. The project is a golden opportunity for children to gain a very real and meaningful understanding of the impact humans have on the environment, the consequences of this and the processes which can be implemented to put past mistakes right. We can only responsibly offer it as a limited project and we very much want it to have the maximum educational impact.

What happens after the birds leave school?

The birds will be reared at our branch farms until the autumn. Incredible Eggs is working alongside farmers and landowners throughout the UK and we have identified sites with habitats suitable for optimum successful reintroduction. Once the birds have reached the correct age, they will be relocated to their release site. Initially they will be contained in an enclosed pen, where they will be provided with food, water and shelter. This teaches them where a feeding station is located, should they need it during their first winter. It also gives them the chance to be adopted by mature wild grey partridges. Single and barren pairs of grey partridge have a strong instinct to adopt juveniles and the youngsters chances are much higher if this happens. We have taken great care to ensure our release sites are not located in the vicinity of any shooting estates where grey partridges are reared as game.

Why shouldn't schools keep and release the birds themselves?

The birds need to be grown on in a suitable environment until the autumn before they are ready to release. Knowledge, expertise and commitment are needed at the release stage and beyond if this project if it is to succeed. Carefully evaluated release sites are a key factor to success. Release pens and feed provisions are needed throughout the birds first winter. Ongoing care and monitoring is required. Updates will be posted on our blog of the different project stages after the birds have left schools. This way your students can follow the progress of the birds they have helped conserve after the school part of the project has finished.

Please note: Unlike with our duckling and chick hatching kits, mortality rates can sometimes seem relatively high with wild birds after they have hatched. The chicks are very small and fragile and nature can seem harsh when determining who is strong enough to survive. We provide schools with a hatching guide specifically designed to maximise success, but supervising teachers are advised to check under the brooder each morning before the children arrive and remove any chicks which sadly didn’t make it. We provide a minimum of 10 eggs in each kit and will refund schools in the very rare event that less than 3 chicks make it through to the end of the hire period.