A Northumberland farmer has received a prestigious award from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) for his hugely successful efforts to conserve an iconic British bird.
In a year otherwise described as â€œapocalypticâ€ for grey partridge breeding due to the poor summer weather, Ronald Barber has seen impressive population increases at the Melkington Farm at Cornhill-on-Tweed. His introduction of dusting shelters alongside other conservation methods made him an outstanding and worthy winner of the GWCTâ€™s Northumberland Grey Partridge group trophy, sponsored by The Glenlivet.
Dusting shelters, which give protection during bad weather and help the birds to improve feather condition by providing a dry dusting area, are easily constructed from corrugated iron set on four wooden posts with a slope from front to back. Mr Barber placed the shelters adjacent to hopper sites in areas where he had seen grey partridges, such as his grass and cereal margins and wild bird seed mixes, and this has led to an increase in his resident grey population. GWCT advisor Henrietta Appleton and one of the judges of the award said, â€œThis combination is the reason why Ronald has seen a significant increase in spring pairs in the last three years and why, despite poor weather during the brood rearing season, he has seen some reasonable coveys this Autumn.â€
Around 10% of the farmâ€™s area is dedicated to conservation margins, wild bird seed mixes and over-winter stubbles to help provide year round habitat not only for grey partridges but also for a range of other farmland birds as well as brown hares. Ronald was keen to also point out that his neighbours, John and Sarah Glass, have been important contributors to Melkingtonâ€™s success due to their own dedication in providing wildlife habitat within their traditional mixed farming system.
Henrietta Appleton added â€œI thoroughly enjoyed touring Melkington Farm and seeing the extensive support system that Ronald has in place to conserve the grey partridges on his farm.â€
Mr Barber said â€œIt has been a depressing year for partridge conservation and we can only hope and pray that next year we have good weather during the breeding season.â€ However, he is confident that the situation for partridges would have been much worse without his conservation practices. He added, â€œI am delighted to have the work we are doing here acknowledged through the award of this trophyâ€.