With the sun shining and turnip seedlings rising out of the game crop like dragons’ teeth, the first mini-setback has happened. A buzzard has taken the first partridge, plucking the feathers clumsily so that they lie in puckered bunches, bound together by scraps of skin. It is a concern, but the return of Mr. Lightbody the scarecrow seems to have diverted the culprit’s attention for the time being.
Buzzards are often cited as being one of the main killers of grey partridges, and while a bit of predation is always inevitable, I hope that it won’t become a serious problem. A friend attempted to start a grey partridge project a few years ago but lost so many of his birds to buzzards that he gave up after three or four seasons. In his own words, he couldn’t face the expense and heartache of feeding buzzards, and so that project faded away. I wonder how many others have been put off breeding and releasing grey partridges because of similar concerns.
The outspoken fury around the granting of licences to control buzzards on a pheasant shoot stirred up some excitement a few weeks ago. For better or worse, conservationists were outraged that native buzzards had been threatened by the management of foreign gamebirds. I also run a very modest shoot, but my gamebirds are native and have just as much right to be conserved as buzzards do. In fact, grey partridges are a great deal more threatened than buzzards are, but if I start to get serious problems with predation, there will be nothing I can do. I am happy to accept that buzzards eat partridges, but when a common predator starts to threaten the viability of an endangered native prey species, there surely ought to be a mechanism for managing the situation.
Over the past eighteen months, I have watched a buzzard kill three greyhens on the Chayne. This year, I have seen no sign of any black grouse broods, despite the weather being utterly fantastic for young birds. Buzzards did not create the gloomy situation that black grouse now find themselves in, but they are certainly making it much harder to fix.