Pheasant Shoots: The Conservation Debate

Pheasants are a part of our culture, they are a part of our image and our countryside memories. My partner being a game keeper and game farmer, they are a part of my livelihood too.

And recently I saw this piece in Country Living October:

Are pheasant shoots good for the countryside?

Absolutely yes, is my answer.

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I strongly believe that pheasant shoots, and any hunting estates, are an effective and worthwhile way to increase conservation. If this land wasn’t being kept for sporting and game farming purposes what could potentially be happening to it… Houses? Out of town shopping? Office parks? Leisure centres? Ruin and overgrown landscapes prime for fly tipping?

In this article it is said that: “According to research from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, shoots create more than 7,000 hectares of hedgerows and 100,000 hectares of copses” Now that’s a lot. It’s taken for granted what actually needs to be done to maintain the levels of natural habitat we have, biodiversity and maintenance… These days it’s not something that just grows on trees, if you’ll, er, pardon the pun. It’s a serious business keeping our natural landscapes and once they’ve been dug up we can’t just get them back again, just like that. Basically, we need this conservation.

Yes, they are used for shooting animals. But the lack of knowledge and the negative stereotypes that some people associate with shoots are clouding their judgement.

There is a quote from Martin Harper, conservation director for the RSPB that apparently ‘sparked fierce debate’ in March. He said: “…the contribution progressive shoots [those that manage their land in a sensitive way] can make to supporting threatened wildlife is significant, and we are delighted to help them further.” It then goes on to say that when defending his view he said: “We simply do whatever nature needs and will work with anyone that wants to help wildlife.” Hear, hear, I say. Why the fierce debate? He’s clearly viewing it from a conversational and wildlife-friendly perspective, as his occupation demands.

Of course, I do try to look at the opposing arguments so that I can justify what I say… And apparently welfare groups claim that releasing the vast number of foreign species of pheasant that we do each year is creating ecological damage. Now this I can’t give factual or scientific responses to, only the belief that I don’t think it is, not enough to have a negative impact on our countryside anyway.

The article then goes on to chastise the protection methods we use to keep the pheasants safe, so the control of foxes, rabbits etc. and it even raises the old lead shot food chain debate. OK, maybe chastise was a bit strong, they’re only weighing up arguments but still… So for that I will say this: that population control is not just beneficial to keeping our pheasants alive until shoot days, that too is important in conservation.

There is also mention of ‘overshooting and compost heaps of dead birds that can’t be sold on’. This is something I have had no familiarity of, and that’s not due to a lack of experience, it’s because that is not a common occurrence and definitely doesn’t imprint a positive connotation of this industry.

The article, written by Kerry Fowler, makes a very intriguing read and whilst it’s hard to tell which side of the fence she sits on, the featured arguments for and against are both very well executed – even the naturalist Richard Mabey who says quite firmly ‘no’ puts up a good fight, but I still agree with Dr Roger Draycott who writes for the ‘yes’ camp.

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Check out the BASC website which has a whole conservation section if you want to read up some more and have a look at the Country Living UK website for other articles you might find interesting.

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