Tasty, testing and English to its wing tips
Shooting Times & Country|September 01, 2021
A devoted parent, a conscientious mate, a strategic flyer and a joy on the table — the grey partridge gets Ed Wills’s vote for the best quarry
Ed Wills

The sight of chirruping English partridges breaking over a hedgerow in a howling gale is a rare sight. I count myself extremely lucky to have witnessed it more than once. The grey — or English — partridge is one of the most testing and beautiful game quarries to engage.

The grey partridge is native, making it inarguably British. So you feel strangely proud as the birds emerge in their coveys towards you with bewildering speed and agility. They used to outnumber the red-legged (or French) partridge due to the combination of land enclosure, increased cultivation and intensive predator control in the 18th and, especially, the 19th century. These farming conditions boosted its numbers considerably and it became the most popular sporting quarry of the past century.

I was cleaning a dusty shelf in March when I came upon an old book at the back. It was entitled Partridge Driving by Charles Alington and was published in 1904. I was immediately fascinated; chapter one begins: “No bird has advanced so much in general favour during the last 10 years as the partridge. This is due, in a great measure, to the popularity of driving, a form of sport which is being more widely adopted every year.”

The bag records show that the largest numbers of grey partridges were shot between 1870 and 1930, during which period around two million birds were killed annually. The same records indicate that, after World War II, the numbers plummeted by 80% in 40 years. This was due to farming alterations, removal of hedgerows, reduction in gamekeeper jobs and other factors.

Rewilding

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