There are two distinct species of partridges found in the British Isles. The original English grey partridge and the introduced French or red-legged partridge. Both have their place in the shooting scene here in the British Isles.
The decline of the native English partridge has been well documented and the irony is that the reasons for its decline are widely known. Loss of habitat is cited as the main reason for the bird’s decline in numbers, as miles of hedgerows were grubbed up in the early part of the 20th century in southern Britain in a bid to bring more land into arable use. With the removal of the hedgerows went the bird’s protective cover and a major portion of its food source. The spraying of cereal crops with insecticide has also contributed to the demise of the grey partridge. A major source of food for partridge chicks is the insect life found at the edges of fields in late spring. Efforts have been made to ensure that spraying is not carried out at the edges of fields and with some success as far as the grey partridge is concerned. In some counties of southern England, grey partridge numbers are holding steady, although they will never again reach the levels of pre-First World War.
There is no doubt that the attractive little grey partridge has an appeal to the game shooter. Contrary to belief, the grey partridge is one of the slowest game birds on the wing and can cause confusion to the shooter who is more used to a pheasant exploding from the game coverts or a red grouse speeding towards the butt. The partridge is nonetheless, a very testing shot as it twists and turns over the hedgerows and stone walls that make up the field boundaries. It is not unusual for a covey of up to a dozen birds to flush from the edge of a field on a walked-up day. As a rule they tend not to fly far or for a sustained period. The coveys usually drop back to earth after a few fields and will give the dogs and shooters an opportunity of a second or even a third flush.