During the first few days after hatching, partridge chicks need to feed on insects to grow and feather-up quickly. Without this protein-rich diet the chicks become stunted and die. Unfortunately insect numbers are much reduced in cereal crops because herbicides and insecticides have broken the natural food chain. Agricultural pesticides rarely poison the birds directly.
Since the early 1980s the GWCT has developed techniques to help put the insects back into cereal crops and increase chick survival in ways that are compatible with modern agriculture.
Dos and don’ts for farmers
Use conservation headlands along the edges of cereal crops. The key features are:
- Use conservation headlands along the edges of cereal crops.
- Herbicides and summer insecticides are not applied on cereal crops along a six- to 24-metre strip along the field margin.
- Fungicides can be applied as normal.
- Some selective autumn herbicides and grass weed-killers can be applied to combat cleavers, black grass and other noxious weeds.
- Do Place conservation headlands next to good nesting cover, for chicks to forage in.
- Do Leave some bare soil between the hedge bank and the crops. It prevents weed infestation of the crop and provides a drying out/dusting area for partridge broods.
- Don’t apply summer insecticides to cereals unless there is no other choice. The deleterious effects of a large-scale application can last for several years. If treatment is necessary, use a selective product such as pirimicarb, or leave the outer 12 metres unsprayed.
A conservation headland. Annual weeds have been allowed to develop in the crop
edge to provide the food base for the insect fauna on which partridge chicks depend.