Dick Potts

Dick Potts in the Sussex Study area (© F Buner)
Dick Potts in the Sussex Study area (© F Buner)

G Richard (Dick) Potts was born in 1939 to a farming family in Yorkshire, England. From an early age, he showed a keen interest in wildlife. After studying zoology at Durham University, his PhD on breeding ecology of sea-birds made him fascinated by the processes that regulate bird populations.

He joined The Game Conservancy in 1968, to investigate why the grey partridge was in decline. With his farming background and ecological insight, Dick realised that to understand changes in partridge abundance, he needed to understand changes in the environment. He identified three main causes of partridge decline: reduced brood survival because herbicides reduced invertebrates as food for chicks, lack of suitable nesting habitat that reduced pair density, and poor nest success due to predation. Through experiments, he verified these conclusions and found solutions compatible with modern farming, like selectively sprayed field margins (“Conservation Headlands”) and strips of tussocky grass within fields (“Beetle Banks”). His experiment on Salisbury Plain showed that generalist predators affected not just partridge breeding success but also breeding abundance, contradicting standard ecological thinking.

Dick’s farmland work was also ground-breaking because conservation was concentrating on protecting pristine habitats, not improving man-made ones. He became Director of Research at the Game Conservancy in 1977 and Director-General from 1993 until he retired in 2001. Dick turned his skills to conserving other species including brown hare, woodcock and lapwing. He transformed a farm given to the Trust at Loddington into an influential demonstration farm and drove a first study at Langholm Moor, Scotland, that quantified the impact of hen harriers on red grouse.

Dick was passionate about partridges throughout his life. His classic long-term partridge study in Sussex, started in 1968, led to remarkable grey partridge recoveries on estates that listened to him and fully adopted his management prescriptions. He also worked with the World Pheasant Association and the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation. All the content of these pages is the direct outcome of Dick’s research, or the indirect result of studies inspired by his work on grey partridge ecology and conservation, on which he wrote two books. He passed away on 30th March 2017, a few weeks before Perdixnet was launched.