Blogger: Rachael Murray, Communications Officer

The Twelve Days of Christmas is a song that echoes throughout the UK during the festive period, and whilst we all get a bit confused about how many drummers are drumming, maids are a-milking and geese are a-laying, everyone is clear on the star of the show - a partridge in a pear tree.  

On Christmas Day it seems fitting to explore the origin of the final true love's gift.

There are actually no recorded sightings of a partridge in a pear a tree, in fact, a pear tree may not have been present at all!  Some believe that there may have been some confusion in the past as perdrix is the french name for partridge and it is pronounced per-dree...hmmm sounds a bit like 'Pear tree' doesn't it?!

This bird, our native partridge, is also referred to by game shooters as the 'English partridge'. The more familiar red-legged partridge is a game bird introduced to the UK in the 18th Century, and sometimes referred to as the 'French partridge'. 

As with the turtle dove, the grey partridge is another bird nestled within this festive tale that is now in trouble in the UK. The grey partridge was once amongst the 10 most common species in Britain, with the eminent ornithologist Max Nicholson (President of the RSPB 1980 to 1985) reporting coveys less than 6 miles from Hyde Park Corner until the 1950s. It is thought that there were around 500,000 pairs in Britain and Ireland in 1962.

Since this time, the species has declined 91% from 1970-2011 (The State of the UK's Birds 2013). The cause of the decline is the indirect impact of pesticides, which have reduced invertebrate abundance, which in turn affects grey partridge chick survival success. In addition, the loss of winter stubbles, field margins and increased herbicide use on their farmland habitat have reduced the availability of their winter seed diet.

But it's not all bad news.  With your support, the RSPB spent 2013 campaigning the government to ensure that sufficient funding is provided to farmers who put wildlife friendly measures in place on their farms. These measures could save the fortunes of farmland birds like the grey partridge, and whilst there is a hill to climb, our voices are being heard. 

No doubt we'll be doing the same in 2014.  We are proud to sing the praises of farmland birds such as the grey partridge, not just at Christmas, but all year long!  We hope you will join us.