Gamebirds, ecology, conservation and agriculture.
Gamebirds display a fascinating array of ecological characteristics that have attracted the wide-ranging interests of naturalists, sportsmen and scientists. The natural history of game has been described elsewhere (Vesey Fitzgerald, 1946; Marchington, 1984; McKelvie, 1985) and we have no desire to summarise this information once more, nor is this volume concerned with gamebird ecology per se. Instead, our objective is to describe and examine the principles of ecology and the application of such principles to the management and conservation of wildlife. We have chosen gamebirds simply to exemplify the approach since this is a group that has been both managed and studied in detail. The management of many natural populations is still based on intuition and could, in our opinion, be greatly improved by the ecological approach developed in this volume.
The term 'gamebirds' is somewhat vague; it can include all birds that are legitimately hunted or just the bird species that fall within the taxonomic order known as the Galliformes. Although this book refers to a wide range of animal species, emphasis is placed on the Galliformes, a group of some 245 species which inhabit a wide range of terrains. In Western Europe, where few natural habitats remain, gamebirds have become closely associated with man and his use of the land: an association which arises largely because gamebirds provide both food and recreation, and one that has resulted in a number of scientific studies of British game.
The choice of gamebirds to demonstrate the application of ecological principles to wildlife management stems from three unusual features of this group. First, man has tried to manage gamebird populations for several hundred years to ensure that they may be harvested in a sustainable manner. Second, regular shooting of game has yielded statistics of the numbers shot over relatively long time periods; these may be used to indicate long-term trends in population size and significant ecological changes in the countryside (an approach used by Potts, 1986). Such long strings of data contrast markedly with the information available on farmland passerines and other wildlife species for which few population data existed prior to 1962 (O'Connor and Shrubb, 1986). Thirdly, gamebirds are somewhat unusual amongst the animal kingdom in that their ecology has been specifically studied by scientists with the final objective of determining and developing management recommendations.