Releasing pheasants at Rotherfield

by Francis Buner, Senior Conservation Scientist, GWCT

There are many ardent grey partridge enthusiasts out there whose cherished dream is to have a sustainable stock of wild grey partridges on their farm. The motivation may be to nurture enough to provide a shootable surplus, or simply to bring back a species to the farm which used to be common.

However, in reality, no matter how much effort is expended, the dream frequently ends in disappointment or is a non-starter full stop.

The subject of successful grey partridge recovery is complex as anyone interested in the bird will know. One problem that greys can encounter, despite the best efforts of the keeper, is that if red-legged partridges are released whilst greys are recovering, then there is a high chance that the project will fail.

As the two gamebirds essentially share the same habitat, frequent shooting will invariably result in accidental killing of greys and a level of disturbance that leads to increased dispersal as the grey partridge is much less tolerant than the red-leg.

Fortunately, the same does not apply to the releasing of pheasants – particularly cocks. Providing that wild bird keeping effort is carried out all year round to the highest standard in terms of code of practise and the legal framework – most importantly foxes, mustelids, rats and corvids - with an intensive period from March to July to ensure maximum breeding success, pheasant shooting based on moderate numbers of released birds is compatible with wild game recovery.

Picture 1

Our pheasant poults arrive in early August – cocks only.

Also, where keepers are asked to rear their own birds for release they typically find predator control during the breeding season difficult owing to lack of time. At Rotherfield we therefore buy our poults from a trusted local game farm which arrive at an age of 7 weeks in early August.

All 600 double wing-tagged pheasants were directly transferred into movable 10 x 20-feet pens which are all covered with nets to stop raptor predation. An electric fence is intended to keep badgers and foxes out.

Each double pen holds 50 birds, 150 per release site. For each release site we use differently coloured colour-tags including the year of release. This helps us monitor success on our shoot days which is essential to help improve a shoot.

How else would you know where the pheasants in your bag have come from? As we aim for a wild bird shoot at Rotherfield, we only shoot cocks and therefore we only release cocks. We want our hen pheasants to be as wild as they possibly can be so they can rear their own chicks in the wild.

Picture 2

Each pheasant is colour-wing tagged including the year of release to allow for monitoring of release and shooting success.

Our pens provide plenty of cover and roosting perches as we want our conventionally-bred pheasants to behave as naturally as possible once in the wild, given their lack of opportunities to learn wild behaviour during their early upbringing. Each pen also has plenty of water and food of course.

Once the birds are released – in our case in stages between mid-August to early September - there is no coming back. We want our released birds to be as wild as possible to provide as challenging a shoot day as possible. Anyone who has been shooting at Rotherfield will certainly know that!

Picture 3

At Rotherfield the pheasants are released from movable pens. This allows for easy change of location in following years if needed, efficient disease monitoring and protection from raptors while in captivity.

Picture 4

 At each release site we keep 150 birds in three pens, each 10 x 20 feet in size, containing plenty of cover, roosting perches, food and water.

Please help us continue our work on this project


Pheasant release from mobile pens

at 10:39 on 04/09/2015 by Francis Buner

Our cock poults arrive at an age of around 6-7 weeks. They should not be older than 7 weeks. As mentioned in the blog we do release the birds in stages. This year, our birds arrived on the 10th of August and we started releasing around 5 per pen on the 17th of August out of a corner of each pen. A few more poults were released every day or two until the pens are empty. On the 4th of September there were still 20 poults per pen left. Feather pecking has not been a problem to date as the number of individuals per pen drops relatively quickly and the cover and perches allow for enough cover or distraction. Should feather pecking occur we recommend to release a few more birds earlier than described above. Our technique is tailored for the lower end of numbers released in the UK and gives the owner/keeper on a wild partridge area some quality shooting in years when the partridge stock is low, for whatever reason. Personally I expect that for up to 1,500 birds our technique will work well for most. Inside the pens we feed using two hoppers filled with early grower pellets. Additionally we provide some hazel branches every few days as the poults love to peck at them which keeps them occupied. They will also feed on the grass inside the pens. Once released they have the option to continue to feed on pellets which are provided just inside the fenced area around the pens (it is important that no other wildlife can access the pellets, see photos) or from portable feeder drums filled with straight wheat that are provided in the vicinity of the release pens and across the whole estate. Additionally the released poults start eating natural food from the day that they are released. A small female weasel may potentially manage to get into the pen, but legal tunnel traps are placed around the edge of the pens to help to prevent this. Rats can however be more of a problem which is the main reason for setting the traps. So far we never had a problem. We haven’t had any need to provide Flubenvet to date other than the medication that may be contained in the grower pellets.


at 10:42 on 24/08/2015 by James Herrick

At what age do you release the pheasants? And do you you do it by opening the door or taking the net off the top? Also, do you have any trouble with feather pecking?

re: releasing pheasants

at 12:30 on 18/08/2015 by Rob Beeson - GWCT

Hi James. Francis is currently on holiday but I will ask him to respond to your questions when he returns. Rob

releasing pheasants

at 11:00 on 18/08/2015 by james christie

very interested in your tecnique. doesnt suit huge numbers without a lot of work. when do you release from the pens and how do you feed - hand or hopper? or do you spin? Is the wire small enough to exclude weasels? Do you use avotec or flubenvet?

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