The effect of game management on the conservation value of woodland rides
In recent decades open areas, created by natural disturbance or human activity, have been lost from many woodlands. Consequently, species that rely on the unique abiotic conditions provided by these open areas, including species characteristic of ancient woodland, have become of conservation concern. In woodlands managed for driven pheasant shooting linear open spaces (rides) are maintained. However, previous research has shown that game management can have negative effects on woodland communities, particularly within the area of pheasant release pens. It may be that rides in game woods do not support the same species as open areas in other woods. We assessed the effect of game management on the structure and management of rides, on the ground flora and shrub communities, and on butterffly abundance of these rides. Rides in game woods were wider and more open. Although disturbance by vehicles was higher in game woods, overall habitat disturbance was higher in control woods. These differences in physical attributes, combined with the direct effects of pheasants (including soil nutrient input), explained the differences observed in the ground vegetation of rides in game woods. For example, there were more fast-growing ruderal species and less bare ground in game woods. Although the richness of shrub species was also affected by game management, the direction of the effect depended on region. Overall, game management did not have a consistently negative effect on species of conservation concern, with the abundance of butterfflies and richness of ancient woodland indicator species unaffected by game management. We suggest that the effect of game management on ride communities is benign and that factors other than those directly examined in this study (such as deer browsing) also need to be considered by woodland managers.