CONSERVATIONISTS believe that the ancient chicory plant could play a vital role in protecting the threatened grey partridge.

Conservations think the woody, herbaceous plant, which can grow over three feet high, could provide year-round shelter for the birds, allowing them to move freely while hidden from raptors.

The Balgonie Estate near Glenrothes will act as a testing ground for the theory by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

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If proven correct, Scotland could see chicory grown across the country in an effort to combat the rising population of raptors, which threaten the grey partridge.

The grey partridge is now on the Conservation of Nature's red list of threatened species after its population feel by 87% between 1970 and 2003.