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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  • In the Scottish parliament some people are trying to suggest that pheasants should be classed as livestock while in their rearing pens but become wild once they were released. I wrote this to Rhona Brankin

    I was amazed to find in the Scottish Parliament the words 'livestock' used for the pheasant and partridge. I know the land owners want to use that word only when the species are found in release pens but hens born in incubators and reared and released as 'free range' are still classed as livestock.

    Therefore if land owners want to use the word 'livestock' for rearing of these birds they will be still livestock when they are released from the pens. As pheasant has been scientifically proven to be the number one bird killed on our roads, land owners would then be faced with huge court cases [no win no fee] totaling £billions over all the estates by members of the public facing 'stress after seeing/hitting these livestock on the road.

    Another problem for the estates would come from the fact that these livestock are then driven into the air and shot. Not many hens are punished this way for not laying eggs!! A great animal welfare issue.

    I feel you should question the word 'livestock' in parliament as most shooting estates in Scotland would soon be bankrupt due to the publics action against them.

    This in turn would rid the use of licenses for the destructions of Birds of Prey taking these 'wild birds'. -  

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  • In the Scottish parliament some people are trying to suggest that pheasants should be classed as livestock while in their rearing pens but become wild once they were released. I wrote this to Rhona Brankin

    I was amazed to find in the Scottish Parliament the words 'livestock' used for the pheasant and partridge. I know the land owners want to use that word only when the species are found in release pens but hens born in incubators and reared and released as 'free range' are still classed as livestock.

    Therefore if land owners want to use the word 'livestock' for rearing of these birds they will be still livestock when they are released from the pens. As pheasant has been scientifically proven to be the number one bird killed on our roads, land owners would then be faced with huge court cases [no win no fee] totaling £billions over all the estates by members of the public facing 'stress after seeing/hitting these livestock on the road.

    Another problem for the estates would come from the fact that these livestock are then driven into the air and shot. Not many hens are punished this way for not laying eggs!! A great animal welfare issue.

    I feel you should question the word 'livestock' in parliament as most shooting estates in Scotland would soon be bankrupt due to the publics action against them.

    This in turn would rid the use of licenses for the destructions of Birds of Prey taking these 'wild birds'. -  

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