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Pheasants blamed for species shortage:

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Joined: 25 Jan 2003
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View other posts by GemmaJF
Posted: 13 Oct 2003

Reptile trust blames pheasants for shortage of species in countryside


Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
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View other posts by GemmaJF
Posted: 13 Oct 2003

This is about as anecdotal as they come, but where I grew up in East Anglia, there were a number of small woods with good meadow areas. They were remarkably devoid of Viviparous lizards, much to my annoyance as a child. The woodland areas often had pheasant rearing pens.

I have always believed that use of pesticides and herbicides in these areas was the culprit and general destruction of surrounding habitat due to intensive farming.

Has anyone reason to think there might be a link with the pheasants themselves and reptile declines?

Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
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Joined: 27 Jun 2003
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View other posts by calumma
Posted: 13 Oct 2003
Below is a copy of an email I sent (in June) to The British Association for Shooting and Conservation. I never did get a response .

"I work as a professional wildlife consultant and survey a large number of sites (mainly for reptiles and amphibians). Over many years of survey work I have noted a trend for low reptile numbers in and around sites with large pheasant shoots. Although the literature reveals that pheasants will eat reptiles I cannot find any references to likely impacts at the population level (i.e. What stocking density is most likely to reduce native reptile populations). If such research documents exist, I would be grateful if you could provide me with references.

Since I provide advice to landowners on management of habitat for protected species, it would be useful to give more specific information. I suspect that impacts are closely correlated with rearing densities and most likely to occur near release pens. Since it is an offence to deliberate kill or injure reptiles and deliberately kill/injure or recklessly disturb great crested newt - the release of pheasant on some of my client's sites could be considered unlawful.

As an example I am currently surveying Luton Hoo Park in Bedfordshire. This site has excellent potential for reptiles. However, despite considerable effort I have not observed any reptiles. Luton Hoo was the site of a very large shoot and I suspect that the cumulative impact of pheasant predation over many years is responsible for lack of reptile observations (natural colonisation of the site is difficult due to isolation caused by arable and urban development). One of the goals of this project is to encourage reintroduction of reptiles. However, there is obviously a conflict between this and pheasant rearing.

Many thanks in advance for your help."
Lee Brady
Kent Herpetofauna Recorder | Independent Ecological Consultant

Wolfgang Wuster
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Joined: 23 Apr 2003
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View other posts by Wolfgang Wuster
Posted: 13 Oct 2003
Anecdotal it all is, but there is certainly a case for more research. Given the number of pheasants in parts of the UK countryside, even very occasional predation by any one pheasant could have effects on juvenile survivorship with the consequent effects on recruitment.

I rather expect that woodland edge/ride herp populations would be more affected than heathland populations, since pheasants tend to hang around woodlands more than around heathlands. Any (anecdotal) evidence to that effect?


Wolfgang Wüster
School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor
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View other posts by GemmaJF
Posted: 13 Oct 2003

The Radio 4 show "Nature" containing Keith Corbetts views may be listened to at


Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
Joined: 23 Jul 2003
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View other posts by davecowley
Posted: 23 Oct 2003

Pheasants can range hundreds of metres away from woods and follow field edges, hedges and roads. I have checked some of my own recents sightings on a map and found that pheasants were seen about 500m from the nearest bit of wood - which was actually a tiny isolated pocket of about 30 x 80m. The nearest larger areas of woodland were both about 1km away from the sightings (the woods being about 3 and 5 ha respectively). It would seem likely that the birds range over reptile habitats in a variety of contexts. 

Pheasants spend most of their time on the ground, and I suspect will peck at anything which seems like food - a young reptile is going to be no different to an earthworm to these birds.

Given the relative isolation of many of our reptile sites these days, it seems a distinct possibility that losing even a small but constant yearly number of animals to predation to pheasants, cats and any other similar preditors (what about the red-legged Partridge too, another introduced game bird?), is going to be a big potential cause of reptile decline. One single cat, once it has killed say, a lizard, will come back for more, and I suspect knock out small populations in months or less.

It would seem we need some research on this urgently, and need to think seriously what steps might realistically be taken to deal with predation by such causes.

Dave Cowley
Tony Phelps
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Joined: 09 Mar 2003
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View other posts by Tony Phelps
Posted: 26 Oct 2003
I have quoted pheasants as a a major predator on reptiles, sand lizards in particular, in a paper on SL's in the BHS Bulletin a couple of years back. Pheasants are almost habitat generalists, and as many good sites occur in and around forestry, e.g. Wareham Forest, then to quote the bird as being restricted to woodland is ridiculous. This will continue to be anecdotal until it gets written up or more research is done, and please don't quote the economics of the shooting industry, all game/hunting pursuits are based on the same premise.We have hopefully moved on since then.


Chris G-O
Joined: 14 May 2003
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View other posts by Chris G-O
Posted: 30 Oct 2003
I think most of us will have seen pheasant roadkill and probably that typically British winter scene of pheasants crossing fields of stubble and following hedgerows. They certainly don't need woodland. The comment from the game lobby about there being no conflict is clearly flawed: pheasants aren't restricted to woodland. I think the Radio 4 programme quoted that perhaps 50% don't get shot, another 10% get eaten by foxes, more are roadkilled, but the rest survive to breed in the wild. While i was checking tins at one of HCT's meadow & heathland sites this summer, i disturbed a female pheasant with 9 chicks in tow. Yes, 9 chicks.

HCT have already been talking to the Game Conservancy Trust who are aware they need to do something. We hope to get some research up and running next year. The Radio 4 programme described a current pheasant radiotracking PhD, but we need something reptile-focussed. I favour a stomach content analysis.
Chris Gleed-Owen, Research & Monitoring Officer, The HCT & BHS Research Committee Chair
j gaughan
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Joined: 04 May 2003
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View other posts by j gaughan
Posted: 05 Nov 2003
'occaisonally lizards, slow-worms and vipers' is cited under the varied 'food' for this game bird in Kirkman & Jourdain's 'British Birds' (1930).
So, it's been with us some 900 years now, and 'The New Atlas of Breeding Birds...' (1993) shows it holding an almost blanket-cover distribution with wide-ranging 'abundance', particularly in the S. & E. Regions of England. The suggested Briitish population of 'females' is 1.6 million (1989), with an average clutch size of 11 eggs.
Research into this alien species impact on native fauna & flora, especially Red Data Species, is decades overdue.

On HCT managed heathland sites in the Weald, i've found a number of nests under and inbetween deep heather _ one had 10 eggs in it. And after a heath fire on the edge of Woolmer Forest last year, i photographed a burnt nest with eggs, again in mature heather, on what was our best Hampshire site for Viviparous Lizards.
All year, every year, we flush birds up out of heather and bracken on nearly all our sites which are reptile-rich, warm, sandy & stoney open heath with surrounding Birch / Pine / Oak woodland and farmland. I'll be watching them a bit more closely from now on.

Joined: 18 Nov 2003
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View other posts by Froglife
Posted: 24 Nov 2003
I reached the same conclusion myself earlier in the year when I found that two prime meadows barely 500m from each other had very different reptile profiles.

Both are unimproved grasslands on south facing slopes, both with some encroachment by scrub, both on light soils, both bordered by woodland, both between 5 and ten acres in size, and both liberally scattered with tins over the last two summers.

One has an abundant population of slow-worms (once 49 in evidence under 9 tins at a single visit), a frequent occurrence of common lizards [about 5 in evidence at a time on a good day], and occasional occurrences of grass snake (one per every 50 or 100 tin liftings).

The other meadow has shown up nothing so far. Not one, though there has been an unconfirmed couple of sitings by the largely wildlife friendly gamekeeper.

My hunch was that the longterm rearing pen in the corner of the latter meadow may have been the cause of the starkly different population profiles. I cannot think of another good explanation. I know the area well and most other likely looking spots have reptiles on them.

The location is in South Norfolk, and is available for study if anyone cares to. There is also a possibility of getting the rearing pens removed to elsewhere if a good enough case can be put to the shoot.

Nick Meade
London Conservation Officer
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View other posts by GemmaJF
Posted: 29 Dec 2003

Post by David Bird

The main Western Palearctic reference set of Bird books Cramp,S. et al 1980 Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East & North Africa Vol II O.U.P. which gives everything you could possibly wish to know about each species. This gives a lot on the food with various percentages of food found by different workers across Europe in different habitats and in different months. It states "Rarely,small vertebrates; include frogs,lizards Lacerta agilis and Eremias arguta, snakes Natrix natrix and Vipera berus, voles and shrews." Most of the references given refer to Eastern European research and as far as I can see none refer to Heathland although there are some figures obtained from faecal samples on Brownsea Island in Dorset.
Some of the foods that are given as the main foods do not seem to occur where I see many Pheasants and I believe they may be opportunistic taking what they come across in any particular area.


Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
Joined: 31 Oct 2003
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View other posts by Rob_H
Posted: 05 Jan 2004

Sorry this is late, but my experience would definitely add to the role of pheasants as herp predators, in this case slow worms. We have about 2 acres of land set over to the slow worms, other herps and mammals etc we have always had. Due to increased farming, this has become almost completely cut off from surrounding favourable habitat; indeed the closest woodland is close to 2 miles away. Pheasants are now coming and going through this area (often no more than six at a time) following the hedgerows due to the local farmer recently setting up a shoot. Result is that I haven't found any slow worms for the past 2 years at least. This is quite dramatic as you only had to pick a piece of corrugated iron up to find dozens of slow worms underneath. Strange coincidence as its the first year we haven't had any.

  Just thought I would add my bit, but the Game Conservancy will be doing something, what with all the pressure on shooting as it is (especially when one realizes that no farmland would be put over to woodland anyway if gamekeeping was to stop; larger environmental impact??)


Best Wishes,


- Pheasants blamed for species shortage

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