With increased debate on how the countryside is managed, the impact of releasing gamebirds on local habitats and wildlife has been in the spotlight. A new paper by Dr Rufus Sage, head of lowland research at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) provides a summary review of the available evidence and concludes that, in general, the ecological positives and negatives of gamebird releasing are approximately balanced. If, however, shoots adhere to best practice guidelines, several of the possible negative effects can be removed, tipping the balance so that the shoot overall can be beneficial for the local countryside and wildlife.
The paper is peer-reviewed and has been published online in the long-running journal Wildlife Biology. It follows a recent report into this topic published by Natural England, and another by the RSPB.
“After thoroughly reviewing the evidence that exists on the effects of releasing pheasants and red-legged partridge, we found that the positives and negatives are almost equal,” says Dr Sage. “The evidence suggests that a well-run shoot that is guided by best practice and abides by the law can make a positive contribution to local habitats and wildlife.”
The paper quantifies the effect of gamebird releasing on different aspects of the environment allowing a better understanding of whether aspects of releasing are potentially ecologically ‘good’ or ‘bad’. “It uses the scientific literature itself to identify topics and then categorises them as positive, neutral or negative but doesn’t weight or rank them based on an assessment of importance, which inevitably introduces an element of subjectivity.”
On the positive side, habitat management for gamebirds can result in more songbirds in game woods, as well as more shrubby plants attracting bees and butterflies at their edges. Woodland is more likely to be planted or retained where gamebirds are part of the landholding, and this woodland is often better managed. In and very close to release pens, the pheasants themselves can have direct negative effects on plants, the soil and invertebrate communities. But there was little evidence for negative effects away from release sites, although mosses and lichens on trees may be affected away from the pen itself.
The full paper is available here.