Credit: Ben Andrew (RSPB-images.com)
More than 40 million gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridge) are reared and released into the UK countryside each year for recreational shooting, a tenfold increase since the 1970s. There are increasing concerns over the environmental impacts of continuing this practice and at such levels, and crucial new research from the BTO shows these concerns to be well founded.
What this study shows is that larger numbers of predatory and scavenging species such as crows are found where these gamebird releases occur, perhaps because they are feeding on the millions of pheasants and partridges that fail to make it through the winter. The populations of these predators are also growing faster, maybe fuelled by this annual bonanza of released meat. These changes could be adding further pressure on ground-nesting birds such as lapwing and curlew. Birds that are already in trouble from the way we use and manage our countryside.
Somewhat ironically, conservation organisations like the RSPB are now having to resort to lethal control to keep numbers of crows from impacting these species of conservation concern.
The status quo is not a sustainable future for our countryside. This study is an important addition to a growing body of evidence on the negative impacts of high-density gamebird releases on the natural environment. It is surely now time to look more closely at the release of such huge numbers of non-native birds and to subject those who release these birds to effective regulation.
It's great fun having four foxes visiting our garden, less so dealing with the headless mallard. Possible connection to the pheasant shoots on three sides of our village - highly likely.
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