Releasing pheasants is good for wildlife. That’s the headline of new research [PDF] by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – as long as shoots stick to its releasing guidelines.
The in-depth resarch shows that the picture is complicated. The GWCT authors summarise it as, ‘negative effects are caused by the birds themselves while positive effects are a consequence of management activities to support them.’
The GWCT says that some of the negative effects of pheasant release, such as damage to woodland insects and plants, can be limited to release sites or feeding points. Others, including disease and the effect of releasing on generalist predators, may occur across a wider area.
‘Many of the positive effects of woodland management, hedgerow management or of game crops occur at the scale of a whole woodland or across an estate or farm,’ concludes the report.
The conservation industry attacks pheasant release over their effect on invertebrates. The report says: ‘There are several studies into the potentially negative effect of released pheasants and partridges on insect communities away from release sites, but these find very little evidence. Pheasants and partridges become very thinly distributed away from the release pen. They will peck at insects but they have a mainly seed/plant- based diet as adults. Within release pens, when pheasant densities are at their highest, evidence suggests that there is a direct effect on some insect groups but not all. Specifically, for butterflies, there has been a study of woodland species and pheasants and another of a grassland species and partridges. Neither found evidence of damage.’
The report points to the positives that gamekeepers provide all local wildlife by planting game cover and providing supplementary feeding.