I was thinking about non-native species at the AGM on Saturday on the weekend before last and wondered when the pheasant shooting season starts - it must be around now.  And it is - the 1 October.

Pheasants are not, of course, native to the UK.  They are an Asian species like the ring-necked parakeet - although pheasants have been running around our countryside for a lot longer so we have got used to them and, I guess, tend to see them as part of the natural scene.

When the Romans brought them here there was no great worry about transporting species around the world. But I wonder what impact, if any, all those pheasants have had, and do have, and may have, on our native wildlife.

We've given this a bit of thought but it is definitely work in progress.

The numbers of pheasants released into the UK countryside is enormous - about 35 million birds a year.  'Only' 15 million of them are shot each year, which means that although the BBS shows a steady increase in numbers, many of them must end up inside natural predators rather than in people's freezers, ovens and tummies.

That's an awful lot of bird meat that is feeding crows and foxes and a range of other species isn't it?

I wonder how much the increase in some predator numbers is fuelled by this meat bonanza?  Maybe not at all?  But given that many of those pheasants are available over the harsh winter period it seems possible that there is some impact.  The most mischievous might suggest that live pheasants are eating food that native species such as finches and buntings should eat and dead pheasants are feeding generalist predators - but it clearly is not that simple. 

Pheasant management at its best provides lots of cover and food that benefits other species.   But the increasing (I think it's increasing) trend for big-shoot days where huge numbers of pheasants are released worries many in the shooting community as well as seeming to me to be at the more worrying end of the specrtrum from an ecological point of view.

I think the pheasant illustrates some interesting points.  First, those 35 million non-native birds are released into the countryside without a licence whereas a few white-tailed eagles, a native species, require a whole lot of bureaucracy.  I'm with the bureaucrats on this one actually - but it's a very interesting difference.  Second, it's sometimes rather tricky to be sure what impact an introduction has or might have, but some species may be relatively benign whereas others cause lots of damage.  Prevention is always easier than cure in these circumstances.

If you have a look at the excellent BirdTrack you'll see that pheasant reporting rates (that is, the proportion of bird lists which include pheasants) have a consistent double peak in the year - in April and in late-October.  I imagine, please correct me if you know or think differently, that the spring peak is because male pheasants make more noise then so they are easier to pick up even if you don't see them, and that the second peak is to do with all those releases?  Is that right?

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  • Mark Avery’s comments about any possible impact the millions of captive bred pheasants released into the wild each in Britain may be having was not only interesting they were revealing.

    Of course Mark Avery is correct pheasants are a non native species but the $64,000 question is, “are they invasive posing a risk or harm to any of our native wildlife?” The answer to that question is yes and no.

    On one hand these game birds are not a threat as they are predated upon by a variety of hungry predators. These predators including fox, corvids together with a wide variety of raptors may to some degree depend upon such a valuable supply of ready meals to feed their young in the breeding season and during the harsh winter months to survive.

    On the other hand, having read the appalling details in the RSPB’s annual Bird Crime figures and the information supplied by web sites like Raptor Politics, the evidence shows the scale of illegal raptor persecution throughout the UK is brought about indirectly by such alien species because of a need of sporting land owners and their gamekeepers to protect game birds like pheasant and red legged partridge which they rear for shooting.

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  • Mark Avery’s comments about any possible impact the millions of captive bred pheasants released into the wild each in Britain may be having was not only interesting they were revealing.

    Of course Mark Avery is correct pheasants are a non native species but the $64,000 question is, “are they invasive posing a risk or harm to any of our native wildlife?” The answer to that question is yes and no.

    On one hand these game birds are not a threat as they are predated upon by a variety of hungry predators. These predators including fox, corvids together with a wide variety of raptors may to some degree depend upon such a valuable supply of ready meals to feed their young in the breeding season and during the harsh winter months to survive.

    On the other hand, having read the appalling details in the RSPB’s annual Bird Crime figures and the information supplied by web sites like Raptor Politics, the evidence shows the scale of illegal raptor persecution throughout the UK is brought about indirectly by such alien species because of a need of sporting land owners and their gamekeepers to protect game birds like pheasant and red legged partridge which they rear for shooting.

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