Coppice management for pheasants.
The pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is the most numerous gamebird in Britain. It comprises over 80% of all quarry species shot and is the mainstay of lowland game shooting with at least eight million birds shot per year.
Pheasants exhibit seasonal variation in habitat selection: woodlands are used extensively during the winter but the birds move out into growing crops during the spring and summer (Ridley, 1983; Hill and Robertson, 1988). During the winter pheasants select certain types of woodland in preference to others. Densities, as shown by trapping success, are significantly higher in areas of scrub and woodland with a well-developed shrub layer than in bare or grazed woodland, hedgerows or open fields during the winter (Robertson, 1985).
Apart from providing the main overwintering sites for pheasants, woodlands are also an integral part of male pheasant breeding territories and the birds select woodland edges with well-developed shrub layers (Lachlan and Bray, 1976; Ridley, 1983; Hill and Robertson, 1988). Lachlan and Bray (1976) examined the tree and shrub species and structural composition of woodland within male breeding territories and concluded that species composition was relatively unimportant provided the structure of the woodland was suitable.
Pheasant shooting is a widespread winter activity in many areas of lowland Britain. It is popular with many landowners and can be an important influence on their attitudes to woodland planting, design and management. Piddington (1980) estimated that pheasant shooting took place on 58% of agricultural properties with this rising to 88% of those of more than 400 ha. She also found that 33% of owners had planted or retained coverts, belts or spinneys for game.
Similarly, a questionnaire survey of Country Landowner Association members (Cobham Resource Consultants, 1983) found that 67% of respondents claimed that game interests were a reason for retaining existing woods, less than 10ha in size, while 56% indicated game was also a reason for planting new woodland. Game was second only to beauty in the landscape as an incentive for woodland management, being given more frequently than either timber production or wildlife conservation. More recently, Ludolf et al. (1989) sent a questionnaire to 400 contributors to The National Game Census, a self-selected sample of estates with a keen interest in shooting, requesting details of woodland management carried out to encourage pheasants. From 150 replies received, 81% carried out some form of management for pheasants with over 30% using new woodland planting, felling, restocking and coppicing as game management tools.
Advocates of game management have long claimed that shooting can lead to benefits for conservation (Simpson, 1907, Gray, 1986; Page, 1987). We suggest that pheasant shooting provides a financial and personal incentive for landowners to carry out many forms of management that would otherwise be uneconomic but which have side benefits for other species. Coppicing is a technique of known value for the conservation of certain rare or endangered species, but its use has seriously declined in recent years (Warren, 1976; Peterken, 1981). Moreover, although coppicing is used by a significant proportion of shoot managers, in many cases they do not reinstate a full coppice cycle and may only manage relatively small areas of a wood (e.g. 25 m x 25 m). Coppicing may occur sporadically in one or two sites, but the continuity of a full rotation with a mixture of age classes is often absent.
In the first part of this chapter we describe recent studies to quantify the woodland habitat requirements of the pheasant and to predict the role of coppicing in providing suitable conditions for the species. Secondly, we present preliminary findings on the effect of re-introducing small-scale coppicing on the ground flora of two woodlands. This chapter draws on a recent report which contains full details of the methods and analyses used (Robertson et al., 1989).