The success story that was told in Purdey’s Long Room on
Thursday night is scarcely credible. Spring pair counts have gone from a
totally unsustainable 3 to a shootable surplice making 262 in just 7 years on
the Duke of Norfolk’s Sussex estate. It is little wonder that the Duke and his
team walked off with the £5000 top price and a jeroboam of Laurent-Perrier champagne.

In 2002 the grey partridge faced immanent extinction in the GWCT’s Sussex study area where numbers had been monitored since the 1960’s. The Duke of Norfolk’s Arundel estate falls within the study area and when Dick Potts of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust raised the alarm the duke started his ‘Norfolk Estate recovery project’.

First of all a part time keeper was employed to control
predators and the Duke set about bringing tenanted areas back in hand so that
his recovery project could be instigated wholesale across the estate. Early
setbacks included a bird from the 3 pairs counted in 2003 being killed by a
walker’s dog.

The two remaining pairs were then joined by 9 pairs of wild birds brought in from Norfolk, and the population began to rise exponentially. By 2007 all the ground was back in hand and an additional underkeeper employed. A 10 year Higher Level Stewardship agreement from 2007 kick started increased biodiversity creating 15km beetle banks and hedge planting around a patchwork
of sympathetic crop rotation and sheep breeding.

There is no denying that what Norfolk and his team have achieved is remarkable and the iconic grey partridge is not the only one to benefit. Skylarks, corn buntings, lapwings, song thrushes, many of our red listed species are finding a haven on the estate.

These results are borne of a determined and cohesive effort over 2,640 acres but they are greater, and more rapid than could have been dreamed when there were only 3 pairs of partridge on the ground. This should inspire huge confidence in the possibilities for land managers all over the country.

Sussex can again boast an enviable grey partridge population, and a shootable surplice of them. The Duke of Norfolk hopes to “reinforce the undoubted links between shooting and conservation” with this project, as well as securing a future for many of our most threatened farmland species.