FOR some, it’s the allure of high pheasant, soaring stratospherically over an ancient Yorkshire valley. For others, that visceral thrill of grouse, fast and furious, hugging close to the contours of the Scottish moors. However, for me, it’s the rather less taxing appeal of a plump Hampshire partridge, shot in shirtsleeves on a mild September afternoon —preferably after a long and merry lunch.
It’s been a while, however, since I’ve seen Perdix perdix, our native English bird. It’s said to taste superior to that upstart Frenchie, which now rules the roost, but it’s been so long since I’ve eaten one that I couldn’t say for sure. ‘Move fast,’ my father would say as soon as the last drive was over. He’d always spot a brace or two of grey legs among the red-legged hordes. Not so much the early bird catches the worm, as the swift shooter bags the better bite.
Wild grey (or English) partridges were once so abundant that up to 10 million could be shot in a year. An excessive number, even by the bloodthirsty standards of the late 19th century. Houghton Hall in Norfolk noted a record bag of 4,316 in four days in 1897, with only seven guns. But after the end of the Second World War, intensive arable farming, with its widescale hedge and bank removal, as well as the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, destroyed habitats and the insects on which the wild chicks fed. Populations plummeted, from more than one million pairs in 1950, to a wretched 75,000 by 2,000.
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September 09, 2020