This is my latest letter to my MP – in line with my suggestion to readers of my Birdwatch column – ‘the political birder’. Why don’t you drop your MP an email along similar lines?
First may I thank you for coming round and doing the Big Garden Birdwatch with me. You seemed to bring good luck with you – lots of birds – and it was good to chat to you about my hopes that the Labour Party will offer more to rural voters like myself, who are passionately interested in the countryside and its wildlife.
As you drove home last Saturday I’d be willing to bet you saw a Pheasant on your journey. They are a common sight in the Northamptonshire countryside and, indeed, across the UK, so it might surprise you to know that this is not a native species. The natural home of the Pheasant is in a forest, up a mountain, on the other side of the Black Sea!
The reason that the Pheasant is, for much of the year at least, the commonest bird in the British countryside, is that 40+million of them are reared and released by shooting interests each year. Of these, around 25 million are shot and the rest die from road traffic accidents, starvation, predation etc.
If we weren’t so accustomed to this strange behaviour then we would regard it as bizarre. There have been calls for our native wildlife to be culled because species like buzzards take the occasional pheasant poult, but the evidence is that such losses are tiny.
On the other hand, there are real reasons to be concerned about the scale and nature of the pheasant shooting industry – on animal welfare, economic and nature conservation grounds. Pheasants are known to eat reptiles such as adders and those who know much more about this subject than I, are concerned that released Pheasants may have been the cause of some local extinctions of threatened reptiles. Also, all those Pheasants that avoid the guns must be maintaining some scavenger and predator species at unnaturally high levels with unknown consequences for other species.
Would you please write to Defra and ask them for the following information please?
1. What research has been done that addresses the range of ecological costs and benefits of rearing and releasing Pheasants for shooting? Does native wildlife benefit or is it harmed by Pheasant shooting? Does Defra have plans to do any such research?
2. What are the economic costs of road traffic accidents caused by Pheasants?
3. How many Pheasant poults are imported into England each year from the continent and what regulations govern their transport? What are the implications of importing live pheasant poults for the transmission of avian diseases into the UK?
4. What are the main animal welfare concerns about the rearing and release of Pheasants and how are these currently regulated?
5. Please provide the same information for the other non-native gamebird, the Red-legged Partridge.
Dr Mark Avery