Beautiful aren’t they, and a common sight around the eco lodges. But should pheasants really be here, where do they come from, and are they damaging native British wildlife? For today’s #30DaysWild we’ve been taking a moment to think about pheasants…
…And we’ve been listening with great interest to BBC Radio 4’s ‘More Or Less’ programme, which unpicks statistics, and was investigating a question posed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Basically, pheasants, initially introduced from Asia and naturalised here, number about 4 million in the population of breeding birds each summer. But a staggering number are bred in pens, and released for shooting: a whopping 47 million in 2016, of which about a third (15 million) were shot. Of the other two thirds, some survive, but many die of starvation, disease, on the roads, or through predation.
One study calculated the biomass of the 47 million released birds equals 1.5-2 times the total biomass of the UK’s breeding wild birds.
So are they just keeping numbers of scavenging crows up – potentially to levels that cause problems for agriculture and for other threatened birds like curlew? And do they themselves predate the lizards and other creatures we want to support? And how can it be right that pheasants, when they are in captivity, are entitled to decent rearing conditions under animal welfare law, but those same birds become ‘wildlife’ once released and get no protection, and certainly no guarantee of a humane death?
And then add in the irresponsible energy use and climate change angle – the pheasant rearing pens around this part of Devon all have a bright orange calor gas bottle next to them, because the rearing process needs a bit of warmth.
So on balance, even though we like pheasants, and are quite fond of some that become long-stay guests at Wheatland Farm, we’re not much in favour of the pheasant rearing industry.
And nor, it seems, is Wild Justice, the organisation set up by Chris Packham and collaborators. They’re asking the courts to force Natural England to assess the impact of pheasant rearing and releases on important nature sites. You can follow the story, and their arguments, through their website.
This male pheasant, and his partner pictured in the video clip, were enjoying a bit of June sunshine in the field below Balebarn Lodge today. There was a time a few weeks ago when you could see a male and a harem of four females in the main lodge field. But then there was a big pile of feathers… We don’t know what got dinner, but it wasn’t us, we promise.
The BBC programme, if you’re interested is here (or download it from the BBC Sounds app). Most of it is about corona virus (also interesting of course) so if you want the pheasant bit, skip to the end.
This time last year: We’d set up some new bee habitat at Wheatland Farm. That reminds us….
This time in 2018: The annual frog exodus was underway at the wildlife pond. That hasn’t started yet this year.
This time in 2017: We were giving the Wheatland Farm driveway a hair cut. OK – that is overdue now. Must be lockdown….