Remember there was a bit of fuss about pheasants and buzzards back in May? Around that time I was writing an article for BBC Wildlife magazine about pheasants! Now the article is out in the September (!) BBC Wildlife.
Pheasants are amazing birds. They are tasty, beautiful and interesting. They are also amazingly abundant in the countryside considering that they are a non-native species.
Tens of millions of pheasants are released into the countryside every autumn – around 35 million of them, perhaps 40 million, maybe even a few million more. That makes them the commonest bird in Britain at that time.
Rather than worry about what impact a few buzzards make on these millions of non-native game birds I think we should worry about what impact the pheasants have on our native fauna and flora. There are some examples in the BBC Wildlife article but I think that this would be a highly appropriate subject for research. Indeed, I think such research is really necessary.
Pheasants are a bit like cats. They are – you say? If someone suggested letting lose millions of a non-native ground predator in our gardens then we might just say Whoa there! Are you sure that’s a good idea? And that is true of pheasant in the countryside as well as cats in our gardens. For pheasants are predators too – they eat things including lots of seeds that might go into chinless linnets or yellowhammers or tree sparrows but they also seem to gobble up a few other bits of wildlife too. And there are millions of them.
Of course, millions of pheasants are shot each year out of the millions that are released but millions remain (and since we are not knee-deep in pheasants they must be dying of something other than being shot). Since only (only?) about 15 million pheasants are shot then about 20 million pheasants are feeding foxes, crows, etc. that could be quite a big ecological impact, couldn’t it?
If you want a day’s pheasant shooting then it might cost you anything between £200 and several thousand pounds depending on the number of birds on offer, the snob-value of the address and the quality of the shooting experience.
There is a long history of the royal family being keen on this pastime. King George V was a gun at a shoot in Buckinghamshire in 1913 when 3,937 pheasants were shot. The 2nd Marquess of Ripon (1852 – 1923) killed 28 pheasants in one minute at Sandringham and there were seven dead pheasants in the air at once during those 60 seconds. And, of course, Prince Philip was itching to get back to Sandringham for a spot of pheasant shooting last Christmas when he was ill (apparently this year he watched rather than shot) and the Queen herself has a deftness in despatching an injured pheasant.
Have a look at the article in BBC Wildlife and see what you think – the images are stunning anyway.
Have you ever plucked a pheasant? Are you a pheasant plucker? Here is some advice;
Take your time. Don’t rush. Have a bottle of sloe gin handy – it doesn’t actually help but it tastes very nice. Pull a small number of feather sharply in the direction that they grow so as not to tear the skin. Hold the bird so that you can pluck away from your body. Work systematically, eg neck, breast, wings (cut the outer wings off with strong scissors), back and tail. Each pheasant may take c15 minutes. There are lots of feathers, so plucking outside is a good idea if you don’t want to spend just as long tidying up afterwards. If you pluck the whole bird without tearing the skin at all you’ve done very well. And once you’ve plucked – cook!
There is plenty else to read and look at in this edition. Read Richard Mabey’s column and look at the swallows lined up on the wires on pages 5 and 6 for a start.