Pheasant shoot management: our letter in The Telegraph


Sir - at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) research department, we have been measuring the impact of releasing pheasants and shooting on the environment for decades, and observing along the way some of the other practices referred to by Richard Mockett (Pheasant shooters need to hold their fire, February 13th) in his measured letter.

What we find or see is like everything else in life, things can be done well or badly.  In the case of pheasant releasing and shooting, it is a bit of a myth that it is all size related.  Big and small shoots often improve their woodlands and plant bird friendly game crops but sometimes they don’t.  It is fair to say the bigger shoots have the potential to be more damaging, but also have more money to plough into good environmental management and the local economy.

There are Codes of Good Practice around all of this.  The GWCT and other interested organisations have taken on the task of seeing that everyone implements them. All guns should ask questions about how a shoot is managed before purchasing a day’s shooting. That will ensure high standards throughout the game sector.

Rufus Sage
Head of lowland gamebird research
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Help drive up the conservation benefits of pheasant releasing

When it is done to the highest standards, the conservation benefits of pheasant releasing are there for all to see - more farmland birds, well-maintained woodland and food-rich cover crops. Our research showing the good that game management can do in the wider countryside, when practiced well, was even acknowledged by the RSPB in a recent Guardian article:


But we cannot be complacent. we believe that pheasant shoots can and need to achieve even more.

Please help us make this possible. By limiting early mortality, we can reduce the need to release more birds – driving up the conservation benefits of shooting and driving down the criticism released pheasants might attract.

Donate here >


Reared birds

at 21:38 on 21/02/2018 by Graham Denny

In response to Nicholas watts and lain Gibson , I don’t think you gentlemen have seen the positives of reared bird shooting because you possibly don’t want to . You have stated that the surplus at the end of the season feeds a wide range of predators that effect the eco system outside of the shoots , in my opinion land unkeepered has no large population of wildlife and harbour breeding predators that hammer the local wildlife they are only controlled when they move to habitat which is wildlife friendly and have keepers to do it , these shoots that for generations have been keepered ,have been looked after, have kept a nucleus of wild breeding birds of all species have ,the habitat that allow these birds to breed, have vermin control ,have keepers to do this work , have people who feed all year before hungry gap had been invented , have been doing stewardship before it became a scheme , Reared bird shooting and the conservation that it has created is the ONLY reason we have any farmland birds at all ! I am a farmer and can put much of it down to practices that have happened through the years I have tried to revert these problems you can not blame shooting for the high level of predators just the people who don’t control them ! And mr Gibson if you are of a mind that buzzards only eat worms you need to take your lense caps off your binos! You probably haven’t seen them take barn owls , hares, partridges,little owls,sparrow hawks or kestrels either maybe you have been blinkered !

Grey Partridge & Lead Shot

at 11:31 on 21/02/2018 by Simon Mansell

At present, most efforts at building populations of wild grey partridges & others (Woodcock) are based on habitat management (to create winter cover, nesting cover and brood-rearing cover) feeding and predation control. And these are funded by shooting organisations whilst the likes of the RSPB seem to have "forgotten the birds". The decline of greys is in part a reflection of agrichemical intensive farming resulting form consumer demand for low cost produce. The suggestion that is caused by pheasant release programmes is fanciful reflection of an alternative agenda. Another aspect of this alternative agenda is lead shot and the food chain. The average consumer is exposed to 60 per cent more lead from their consumption of beer, potatoes, coffee.

Birds and shot

at 22:45 on 20/02/2018 by Rick Weinstein

Re lead shot, is it really a problem? I am open minded on this subject but must confess I found it interesting that a Scandinavian country, I think it was Norway but not sure, recently reversed the ban on lead shot it put into place a few years ago due to a lack of empirical evidence that it was beneficial. Would be interested to learn more on this matter. Re putting birds out for shooting, is any reliable detailed data available? For example, how many birds are raised and released for shooting in the U.K.? How many of the are shot? What happens to the birds that are shot? Given that most guns shoot something between 5 and 30 birds on a shoot but only take home a brace, are the rest eaten or wasted? I do truly hope the former but would nonetheless like to know. Thanks for any help on this subject.

Reared Pheasants

at 20:41 on 20/02/2018 by Simon Mansell

Be careful of what you tear down without offering a replacement: PACEC calculates that shooting has an effect on the management of roughly two-thirds of all the rural land in the UK — amounting to approximately 14million ha. Almost 2million ha of this (12 per cent of all rural land) benefits from “active management” due to shooting — including the management of heather moorland and the planting of trees and hedgerows. This is 10 times more land than is managed in all the UK’s national and local nature reserves put together. Threatened bird species such as the skylark, lapwing and corn bunting are five times more abundant on land managed for shooting than elsewhere, according to the RSPB and Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. On average five species of wild flowers are found in unmanaged woodland. In woodland managed for shooting an average 16 species can be found. PACEC in 2006 revealed that game shoot providers spend £250 million a year on conservation (five times the RSPB’s annual income.) On average five species of wild flowers are found in unmanaged woodland. In woodland managed for shooting an average 16 species can be found. Moorland managed for shooting typically supports 33 different species of birds compared with 15 on unmanaged moorland. On average the man with a gun is a better custodian of wildlife than the man with a pair of binoculars.

Pheasants and Conservation

at 18:32 on 20/02/2018 by Iain Gibson

In response to Nicholas Watts, I can boast that I have studied wildlife in the countryside for over 50 years, but that alone doesn't necessarily mean I'm any more of an expert than him. However I have worked as a professional ecologist for over 30 of these years, specialising in ornithology, habitat management and agricultural impacts. I have seen Grey Partridges rapidly declining during a period when pheasant release became more intensive, without concrete proof but I suspect due largely to competition for spilt grain and broad-leaved weed seeds in stubble fields. Despite having studied Buzzards in some detail, I have never known a Buzzard take a pheasant within my extensive study area; in fact I can't recall a Buzzard taking anything larger than a Rook or a Rabbit. I can't prove Buzzards never take pheasants, but given my experience I can surmise it probably doesn't happen very often. I have certainly never seen any species of crow predating a pheasant, and honestly can't imagine it. There are few Red Kites in my area, but the ones I have observed hunting have been mainly going after small mammals. Again I suspect a pheasant would be too big for them to handle. I would suggest the main adverse impact of pheasants is their sheer numbers after release, and the fact that they devour large amounts of food which would otherwise have been available for native species. They also have a direct impact on numerous invertebrates including butterfly and moth larvae, as well as animals like amphibians, reptiles and occasional small mammals. The only people I hear arguing that pheasants do little harm to the ecosystem are those with a vested interest in shooting them, or their associated 'scientific' bodies. As for the economic value of pheasant shooting, money doesn't disappear if not used for that purpose. It could be invested wisely or used to develop trade which supplies real jobs and wider economic benefits. Game shooting, like fox hunting, is regarded by many as an outdated and anti-social means of deriving pleasure from cruelty, and causes an unacceptable level of disturbance to the countryside, stress for people who care about wildlife, harm to predator populations, and an imbalance of nature. Not to mention a host of environmental and ecological problems. I don't expect my views to be popular with your core readership!


at 15:53 on 20/02/2018 by Hugh Rose

The charges made above that: 1. Excess bags are being offered to gain better financial returns. 2. Many reared game birds provide easy food for predators so increasing their numbers and damaging other wildlife. 3. Many shoots abruptly stop feeding at the end of the season causing greater competition for natural food are certainly true in many cases. High numbers of reared birds left unharvested at the end of the season is usually due to a combination of putting down too many and not shooting enough. Bags tend to fall away as the birds get stronger and clever and poor weather combined with short days makes shooting less appealing. In the balmy south, large numbers of hens may find enough food to survive but few will breed effectively; too many cocks become a nuisance. So shoots really should reduce their reared stock to low levels at the end of each season by shooting harder or catching up for breeding purposes. It might also help if the open season dates were to be extended until the end of February to achieve the required reduction.

reared pheasants

at 14:04 on 20/02/2018 by Nicholas Watts

Having studied the wildlife in the countryside for over 40 years I am writing to tell you that reared pheasants are bad for the countryside, these half sharp birds are easy prey for the fox, badger, buzzard, kite and the crow family. It gives them all a surplus of food and any animal or bird that has a surplus of food will increase in numbers. Many shoot owners stop feeding on the 1st February as they do't want any old birds around the next autumn, they want them to die off so of course our farmland birds don't get fed either. The pheasants die off the raptors and mammals feed on them, when they are all gone they start on the Lapwings and Skylarks. My son in law went to a shoot in mid Lincolnshire where the keeper arrives mid August, repairs the release pens for the arrival of the partridges and pheasants. Shooting begins after 2 or 3 weeks. On the 1st February the keeper goes away to run another business. It is in our own interests to try and stop this cowboy attitude but it will always be that these reared birds are increasing the fox, badger, buzzard, kite and the crow family population all of which nibble away at our smaller birds.

Bad practice pheasant and partridge shoots.

at 12:46 on 20/02/2018 by Peter Nutting

Unless a regime that applies sanctions can be put in place, bad practice will continue. Elementary economics ensures that 600 or more birds shot on a day shows a superior financial return than 250/300. We sure don't want a licensing system but it might be the only way.

pheasants and lead

at 12:27 on 20/02/2018 by John A Burton

A critical issue is also the use of lead shot, and its disbursement into the environment. (as well as into the human food chain). Some of the lead will end up in the gizzards of non target species, and is of course a poison. Plenty of places now have bans, and it is time there was a universal ban on the use of lead in all forms of shooting

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