Farm sparks a rare breed revival that has got wings

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A North Yorkshire farm is leading the region’s conservation efforts to revive the ailing population of a rare wild bird.

Stuart Stark, who operates mixed enterprise Fridlington Farms Ltd over nearly 3,000 acres near Sutton on the Forest, has been awarded the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) prestigious Yorkshire conservation trophy for recording an increase of wild grey partridges on his land between 2012 and 2013.

Conservationists say the number of wild greys, a species considered to be one of the UK’s most iconic birds, has plummeted by 86 per cent in the last 40 years.

To combat the decline, the GWCT works with farmers across the country to create habitats which provide safe nesting places for the birds and which encourage insect populations to thrive as a source of food.

The grey partridge population at Fridlington increased after a number of broods successfully hatched last summer. It is an excellent result, the GWCT said, given last year’s “apocalyptic” breeding season.

Fridlington’s gamekeeper Charlie Garbutt is influential in the success, by co-ordinating the location, establishment and management of the type of habitat that supports the wild grey.

Explaining how the species is flourishing on his farm, Mr Stark said: “We have put six-metre grass margins down the side of water courses on the farm and next to them we have put a linseed and barley mix to encourage insects for feed.

“This year we have also tried some nectar and pollen mixes and that’s again for chicks to have enough insects to feed on.”

Wild grey chicks need around 2,000 insects per day during their early weeks.

Mr Stark added: “We have found that with the linseed and barley mix, it was flowering in July and August and we didn’t think it supported enough insects early on. Next year is when we will see it really come into its own.”

The species’ losses over the decades was sad, he said.

“The decline over the last 40 years has been tremendous. They are great birds to see about the place. We wanted to try and build their numbers back up. It’s a bit of a challenge and we have been members of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust for quite a few years now.”

Henrietta Appleton, an adviser for the GWCT, said: “This is an excellent example of what can be done on an intensively managed farming enterprise given a good working relationship between the farming staff and the keeper.”

For details about the GWCT’s grey partridge conservation groups, call Lynda Ferguson on 01425 651013.