History of Grey Partridge

From 1855 to 1900 cereal production showed a significant decrease; oats (Avena sativa) by 48.1 %, barley by 90.4% and wheat by 28.7%. In 1900 the grey partridge is described by Ussher & Warren as having an extensive range though unevenly distributed, being plentiful in Co.Tipperary, Kings County (Co. Offaly), Queens County (Laois), Co. Kildare and Co. Meath, but scarce in the west of Connaught and Donegal where moors and mountains prevailed.

30 years later Seigne reported that the density of partridge had decreased from 4-5 coveys to 1-2 coveys on his 162 ha farm in Kilkenny. The decline was attributed locally to a high level of poaching. Nationally, the decline was so serious that by the early 1930s wild birds from abroad were released and legislation prohibiting the shooting of grey partridge was introduced. Following these measures an increase was noted from 1933 onwards and grey partridge had colonised areas in the west of Ireland where 20 years before they were unknown.

However, in most counties the bird was still sparsely distributed. Kennedy et al stated that in 1954 grey partridge were more plentiful in Co. Carlow than any other county. Up to as recently as the 1960s, the status remained unchanged though no indication was given as to the actual size of the population. In 1966, Ruttledge noted that grey partridge were sparsely distributed and sometimes found in small-cultivated fields of desolate areas.

More recently national bird surveys conducted by the Irish Wildbird Conservancy (now Birdwatch Ireland and the British Trust for Ornithology), have shown a dramatic decrease in the distribution of partridge since the late 1960’s. The first survey collected data between 1968-1972. Of the 1,010 10km squares surveyed nation-wide, partridge were recorded breeding in 255 (25.2%) of these. In a second survey 20 years later (1988-1991) partridge occurred in only 35 (3.5%) squares.