A plague around all our houses?

Muntjac deer - valuable rural asset? Photo: Airwolfhound from Hertfordshire, UK (Muntjac - Fowlmere  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Muntjac deer – valuable rural asset? Photo: Airwolfhound from Hertfordshire, UK (Muntjac – Fowlmere Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
You have to smile a little at the enthusiasm with which the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph (not online) trumpet the problems caused by ‘alien’ species. The ‘battle to stop foreign invaders killing off native British wildlife’ is costing £1.7bn a year apparently, including £70m to get rid of Japanese Knotweed ahead of the Olympics.

Those pesky foreigners!  The papers are right, of course, what else would we expect from the Daily Mail (?), to highlight the damage, and the cost of the damage, of non-native species.  But, of course, it isn’t the species’s fault!

Grey Squirrels didn’t get here on their own – they were released by landowners.  All those pesky Muntjac Deer didn’t swim here from India and China – they were released by landowners. Canada Geese do apparently sometimes get here on their own but that isn’t why we have so many of them in our parks and lakes – we have the Royal family, JamesII, to thank for them.

Yesterday was the start of the Pheasant shooting season.  The economic value of Pheasants is up there in the millions of pounds.   They are a bit like Grey Squirrels and Muntjac Deer – they are non-natives where there are concerns, some proved, some not, that they may be harming some native wildlife.  And we are spending lots of money killing them every year.  One is seen as a cost and the other is seen as a fillip to the local economy.  Is there really that much difference?

I’d rather be shot of the lot of them – bang, bang!


Pheasant - pestilential alien invader? Photo: David Croad (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Pheasant – pestilential alien invader? Photo: David Croad (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

53 Replies to “A plague around all our houses?”

  1. Has anyone ever properly explored the ecological impact of Pheasant and French Partridge releases on the scale that currently happens?

  2. Non native species – just evolution in action? We’re part of nature, we bought ’em over here.

    I rather like Pheasants, very beautiful birds and taste nice too. I am also reassured that the conservationist community are not going to bring about your wish any time soon because they are not going to reach the 55 million non-conservationist that you’ll need to get to in order to influence and then support the actions of decision makers. That much is absolutely clear.

    The attitude of the 55 million is summed up in an old joke about HRH the Duke of EdinBurgh banging (see wot I did there) on about Pandas: Who gives a [expletive deleted] about Pandas. I couldn’t care less if I never see one. Even a Panda won’t [bleep] a Panda. That’s why there are no [bleep]ing Panda’s”

    Mark, just for once, please tell us here why we should care about Pandas so that I can give my neighbour an intelligent response.

  3. I wonder when non native becomes native? It seems to me that us humans are incredibly inventive in moving the goal posts to suit are argument. Take immigration for instance. It seems perfectly fine to me to say anyone born in the UK is British, even when their parents might be from ‘foreign’ imports. But here we have three examples of apparent non native species that have, in one case, been on these isles for two thousand years and because it suits your narrative, it’s non native. So who really classifies native and non native. Roe deer came to the UK after the end of the last ice age, are they non native? And if they are not, what should we do with them, or Muntjac, pheasants, eagle owls and the like.

    Custom and practice from the RSPB appears to be wipe them out, as in the case of the Pacific Rat. But surely, as with us humans, they are part of our globalisation.

    1. “Wipe them out” – yeah quite so, but then how do the good law abiding game keepers “earn a living” if we do?

  4. It is something like 50% of out plants originally came from abroad but still the old Sycamore having been here over 1000 years can not make the ‘native’. Himalayan Balsam is one of the best plants for bees but it still has to go!

    1. Sorry John, I have to (only slightly!) disagree. Whilst Himalayan (or Indian) Balsalm does provide some beneficial late season forage, as I understand, it limits its benefit by shading out other flowers that provide forage earlier in the season.

      Happy for someone more expert than me to prove me wrong!

  5. The situation with Ash dieback and the even more terrifying emerald ash beetle is interesting. The combination of these two pests may well lead us to either replacing or at least mixing one of our native species – ash with alien variants in order to ensure its survival.

  6. Today’s ‘Markxist cheep shot’

    “what else would we expect from the Daily Mail (?) “

    Oh dear!

      1. Trim,
        When the Daily Mail look back and apolgise for the political views of it’s past editors supporting Oswald Moseley and the Black Shirts and singing the praises of Hitler and also trying to persuade through editorials not to go to war with Germany then they can feel free to question peoples dads view…..

        1. Miliband Senior – was most certainly an extreme left-wing anti-UK-establishment activist wanting a ‘workers revolution’– his choice !

          Ed M – his son – is much the same – but set in ‘today’s changed society’ – that’s ok too – but let us all be made aware of the background to Ed M’s thinking / beliefs

          After all – we know all about Cameron’s father. We also know that Tony Bliar’s father was a Tory and considered standing as a Tory MP

          So what’s the problem again?

          1. As long as we remember and are made aware of the background/thinking/beliefs of the paper in question at the same time, it’s beliefs back then are no different today, vile right wing racist tosh.
            It’s one thing to attack/scrutnise and mans policies, political beliefs etc and hold them up for scrutiny but to label a dead man a “traitor” is low, was the Daily Mail in any position to label someone a traitor after there past actions? After all I don’t believe in a god, I too would like to see the redistrubution of wealth and I definately think the Royal Family should be abolished, does that make me a traitor or perhaps the Daily Mail would label me “NON-BRITISH”.

      2. Rod Liddle – Spectator – Hardly a Tory supporter !!

        “But Ralphy? Not good, really not good. A competent writer (for a sociologist, at least — certainly a lot better than his mate C. Wright Mills), but possessed of views which wished to see the overthrow of the British state. A view steeped in a sort of intellectual, distanced, hatred; effete and pointless and hugely damaging to the Labour party, of which Ralph Miliband was a member for most of his later life. (To his credit, he never quite signed up to the Communist party.)

        My real objection is the way in which these British-based Marxist academics are still revered, still taken seriously, despite having been proved wrong about almost everything.”

        Truth will out – Ed could lose this one very badly – the Truth is !

          1. Somewhat reluctantly I have to respond:

            “Well – you started it!”

            Trimbush – glad you noticed. Thank you.

  7. So has anyone seen the second advert by the rspb featuring the barn owls yet, do you realise it has been “re-edited”, I’ve only seen it twice, the original and the re-edit. In the first one it showed as a voice over asked for your money to “give nature a home” video footage of both red and grey squirrels and I wonder how the rspb with public money was going to give both species a “home”, it also featured an otter, but oddly not a european otter but one from the amazon (I kid you not), guess what the re-edit doesn’t feature said otter nor does it feature the grey squirrel, see my comment ages ago were I said at the time I can’t believe it features a particular rodent….
    As for invasive species, the housing estate I live on once were the grounds of a big old country house “Mansfield House” and our estate was part of a big lake as a result japanesse knotweed is a massive problem. I was unable to sell my property as potential buyers were refused a mortgage and last year my insurance provider refused me cover until it was got rid of, 9 months on we sit fingers crossed it’s gone…..as for the muntjacs weren’t the original “wild” ones escapees from down the road at Woburn safari park Mark?

  8. Well put as always Mark!

    Has presence of Pheasants helped historically to maintain pockets of habitat (in terms of woodland, hedgerows and verges) which have benefitted our farmland biodiversity?

    1. Andrew are you suggesting that pheasants are a crop? Or do you genuinely believe its OK to release 35million odd pheasants into the UK’s countryside because the domestic potato isn’t native? Three words for you Andrew – Get A Grip.

    2. My brain cell is aching now. I need to get a grip.

      I don’t think Andrew is necessarily saying Pheasants are a crop (although they might be thought of that way I suppose), he appears to be saying you have to look at the whole picture, not just the numbers, before you wipe out all non-native species. Seems fair enough or am I missing something.

      Mark, previously you were rightly concerned with earning a living but you’ve clearly concluded the costs outweigh the benefits (of Pheasants at least) so too bad for the guys potentially made redundant by a total wipeout. How does your calculation go and whatever happened to Win-Win?

      1. Before anybody picks me up on Hen Harriers (Doug?) yes I do believe they can co-exist with game birds.

        1. Hen harriers will happily co-exist with game birds it is game-keepers that are the problem.

          1. And, as an afterthought, dare I suggest some anti’s. J Carter over on Birdguides seems to think so!

      2. Great article in that link from Andrew Gilruth – a refreshingly balanced and rational article amidst a sea of prejudice and confusion. The management of invasive alien species (neither potatoes nor pheasants qualify) must be based on an evidence based approach. As such the draft EU regulation aimed at tackling up to 50 invasive alien species of concern at EU level is encouraging because it aims to evidence the case made for any species to be placed on an EU level list of priority species as well as the management options that will be required at member state level for those species.

        1. Conor – welcome and thank you. Are you claiming that there are no impacts of 40 million pheasants on native UK wildlife?

          1. Mark,

            Thanks. No, I was expressing my view that Andrew Gilruth’s article “Pheasants and potatoes – How can numbers alone inform us about impact?” is a great article. I would recommend all to read it.

            To answer your question, the pheasant and potatoes i ate last night had a major impact on my stomach this morning! Seriously though, our continued collective reference to pheasants as non-indigenous is arbritrary given that they have been around since Roman times. The whole native/non-native debate is a muddle. Every species on these islands including our good selves has impacts, good and bad. Arguments based on people’s views on which species are good or bad based on numbers alone and their ‘nativeness’, rather than looking objectively at the evidence is unwise.

            The mammal society claim over 55 million birds are killed by cats every year but the RSPB qualify that there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide.

            Millions of ‘alien’ birds ‘invade’ our shores every year to exploit the natural resources in our estuaries. We celebrate this migration. We dont worry about the impacts on the poor native beasties in the mud.

            The debate really can get a bit ridiculous and stale, which is why Andrew Gilruth’s article is such a breath of fresh air.

          2. Conor – I wasn’t around at the time but I’m pretty sure that the Romans didn’t release 40 million pheasants into the countryside each year.

            It’s funny how this has to be about the RSPB – why don’t you tell them not me? But, are you, or your employer, seriously arguing that there is an impact of cat predation that amounts to a conservation issue? Which species would that be please? The Skylark? The Wood Warbler? The Hen Harrier?

            Your analogy of migratory waders does, indeed, demonstrate how this ‘debate’ can get a bit ridiculous.

          3. Mark, thanks, I thought the RSPB made a very good point when they stated that there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide, which is why i mentioned it!!! The same point is made in Andrew Gilruth’s article and he ends by stating that “it is not necessarily the act of growing a potato, or releasing a pheasant, that is the issue – it is the impacts on the environment. Both have impacts but the number of potatoes grown or pheasants released does not, on its own, tell us that they are causing ‘harm’. Headlines about high numbers can serve us all in thinking though the issues – that is a good thing; as long as we consider all the issues”

            Following the evidence….I would recommend readers with an interest in exploring the evidence rather than the rhetoric to google out EEA Technical report No 16/2012 which reviews the impacts of invasive alien species in Europe, also to have a look at the top 100 on the DAISIE website and of course at the GB non-native species secretariat website.

          4. Mark,

            Are you suggesting there are no impacts from ~10 million domestic and ~800K feral cats on native UK wildlife? As well as the actual physical predation of mammals and birds (whatever amount that may be), recent research suggests that there is also an indirect impact associated with the mere presence of cats in close proximity to nesting birds, resulting in both reduced nestling growth and increased 3rd-party predation (from corvids mainly) http://tinyurl.com/c6c87jv With bird numbers down 40-50% over 50 years, for all the variety of other reasons we are familiar with, surely any further form of additive mortality on dwindling populations has to be of conservation concern?

            And then there is the Scottish wildcat – rarer than both the Siberian tiger and panda…….http://t.co/IR30frMTGU

          5. Keith – no I’m not suggesting that. But name a UK species of conservation concern where cats are a big, or even a moderate, part of the problem. The Skylark? The Yellow Wagtail? The Turtle Dove? The Starling? The House Sparrow? The Roseate Tern? The Lesser Redpoll? The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker? The Herring Gull? I could go on, but the point may have been made.

            Cats eat lots of birds. But I’d be more worried about their impact on amphibians and reptiles, on the whole.

            For the record, I’d rather there were many fewer cats, domestic and feral, roaming the countryside (and in the case of domestic cats, my garden too!).

          6. Don’t disagree about amphibians and reptiles, and I restate the Scottish wildcat as a UK species of conservation concern.

            My point is that with some bird (and other wildlife) species under huge pressure from a variety of sources, all of which are exerting a cumulative depressive effect on populations, any measures we can take to mitigate such impacts should be enacted. With domestic cats, owners have it in their gift to alleviate part of the problem. With feral cats, the treatment applied on the British Overseas Territory of Ascension Island to protect seabirds did the trick http://tinyurl.com/o5jc6mx and could possibly do the same for the Scottish wildcat in some of its remaining redoubts – Ardnamurchan peninsula etc The USA, Australia and NZ all take a commendably robust approach to responsible cat ownership – perhaps we should follow suit?

            And annoyingly, my garden now also enjoys the recent and unwelcome attention of a neighbour’s recently acquired ‘rescue’ cat. Contemplating counter-measures as I type…..

  9. Great blog Mark (IMHO)- your point about it not being the species fault is surely well made.

    I think the surprise is that to date we’ve been let off relatively lightly in these islands up to now – though that is fast changing. As well as deer and tree diseases there are some less well publicised disasters in the making in more specialised habitats especially freshwater.

    For trees I’d urge anyone to read the relevant chapters in Oliver Rackham’s ‘Woodlands’ – a brilliant summary. He points out, among other things the disastrous situation in the US, that winemaking in Europe was nearly destroyed by an invasive non-native and that a fingernail sized sample of soil containing Phytophthora could have been enough to devastate entire forest ecosystems in Australia.

    As for how we ‘deal with the threat’, this has to be on a case by case basis. We’re unlikely to be able to rid ourselves of muntjac, grey squirrels or sycamore even if we wanted to (on balance I’m with those like Richard Mabey who stick up for the sycamore a bit). Better concentrate on for example rhodedendron and trying to secure ourselves against further ‘invasions’. We can presumably decide not to release quite so many pheasants if they were proved to be damaging (and hey maybe use some of the billions of agri-environment grants to maintain the pockets of biodiversity Nick refers to?).

    The evidence of how ‘aliens’ arrive has usually disappeared long before their presence has been discovered. The papers might as well have said “the battle to shut the stable door long after the horse has bolted”. As for using the language of the far right to demonise species – totally wrong and irresponsible, I wouldn’t expect anything less of the Wail and the Tottygraph.

  10. Mark,sorry nothing to do with this blog but wondered if you had seen where Swedish Government want to apparently cull their Golden Eagles from 500 pairs down to 150 pairs.

  11. Actually Phil while I agree that democracy is on the ropes at the moment, to influence lawmakers should only take a fraction over half the population rather than the 55 million (of 63 million) you quote. So we antis already need around 25 million fewer converts than you think, clearly putting us nearer to ending the cruelty of killing birds for ‘fun’ than your guess would suggest.

    1. Charlie, I was quoting somebody else when I stated 55 mill. It’s what I do.

      How to get to the critical mass is the key!! Not getting too many answers here but you never know, one day!!

    2. Btw, one of the reasons I’m so pissed with the rspb is their refusal to help me in my efforts to negotiate with a company arranging trips to Morrocco to blast Turtle Doves. The next month they were asking us all for money to help protect Turtle Doves!! Funny old world isn’t it?

  12. If Sweden doesn’t want its Golden Eagles then suggest they send them over here – and I could suggest a good place for their release!
    Problem with introduced aliens is that they appear to flourish and in doing so outcompete some of our native wildlife. As a result they don’t add to the diversity of this tiny island, they can significantly reduce it.

  13. What impressed me, Trimbush, was that Milliband senior, a presumably native German speaking immigrant, made Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy by the time he was 20 – Whatever he may have done in peacetime, that is a pretty impressive achievement and record.

  14. Hi Douglas

    Wanting the Royal Family abolished just makes you a Republican – thinking doesn’t make you a traitor – actually doing something treacherous would qualify you as a traitor – like the guy with the Guardian working in the USA – stealing secrets and releasing it to the rest of the world! The Guardian? Aiding and abetting? Yep – now that’s treachery!

    Redistributing the nation’s wealth would just see it all (90% of it anyway) back with where it came from in the first place – besides – why should wealth be stolen from the current owners and be given to all others; the first Friday night would see 30% of it ‘move back’

    I really don’t know the DM’s ‘beliefs’ on racism but it must be doing something ‘right’ to tap into all of its many readers (and I am not one) the way it does

    ps: best of luck with your ‘knotty’ problem above

    1. Trim, there you go with that way of thinking again. Mr Farage gets in our faces in a way Natalie Bennett can only dream of. Can’t the clever conservationists work out how he does it and do something similar? The IPCC report didn’t even get a mention on the Marr program last Sunday!! Part of me thinks the probs are not that urgent after all.

  15. Andrew Gilruth’s article doesn’t go far enough. The environmental impact of the potato crop is colossal if the true costs of deep soil compaction, de-stoning, traffic damage, nitrate leaching, packhouse washings disposal, etc., are counted. All to produce starch, which we need to produce T2 diabetics, and a modicum of protein.
    In terms of what we rely on for food production in the UK, it is a fruitless exercise to look for a staple that was here before Doggerland was flooded. Neaps, maybe? In those terms, everything is alien. I won’t post a boring list.
    It is also common usage to refer to livestock production as a crop – eg current year’s crop of calves or lambs – so not inappropriate for artificially reared pheasants. Those gooney-birds that were outside here on Monday were mostly slaughtered by the Goons and have already been replaced by hundreds of new gooneys, many of which even have some pheathers. After eating wheat for a few days they will be dead by the phootie results on Saturday. There will be very few left next spring and I suspect that this is typical of lowland south of England – transients, not residents.

    All this is pointless – but so, in utilitarian terms, are many other pursuits like hot-air ballooning, spectator sports, coarse fishing, birding, horse racing, motor racing, Viking River Cruises, UTCAA. All pursued for entertainment, all with impacts.

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