The annual mass release of millions of non-native gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridges) for shooting has long been of interest to those of us who care about raptor conservation, because the vast majority of illegal raptor persecution in the UK is undertaken by gamekeepers whose job is to ‘protect’ the gamebirds long enough for them to be shot by paying guests. Since 1990, two thirds of those convicted of raptor persecution related offences have been gamekeepers (see here).
The exact number of gamebirds that are released in the UK for shooting every year is not known because, incredibly and unlike virtually every other European country, the game bird shooting industry in the UK is under-regulated. Nobody even knows how many game bird shoots there are because the people involved do not have to register anywhere, nor report on the number of birds released / shot each year. It’s been a great old wheeze for decades.
[This photograph of non-native pheasants released for shooting was posted on social media by a gamekeeper in Scotland]
The most recent figures, still considered to be a conservative estimate, were for the year 2018 and included 49.5 million pheasants and 11.7 million red-legged partridges, making a total of 61.2 million non-native gamebirds released into our countryside. These figures emerged as a result of Wild Justice’s recent successful legal challenge on gamebird releases (see Mark Avery’s blog here for more details).
Today a new peer reviewed scientific paper has been published that has revealed a shocking insight in to the effect of releasing so many gamebirds. The authors estimate that around a quarter of British bird biomass annually is contributed by pheasants and red-legged partridges, and at their peak in August these two species represent about half of all wild bird biomass in Britain!!!!!!!
This pie chart from the paper is eye-watering:
The paper’s citation is: Blackburn, T.M. and Gaston, K.J. (2021). Contribution of non-native galliforms to annual variation in biomass of British birds. Biol Invasions.
It is open access, which means anyone can read it for free. Download it here:
The next time someone tells you, ‘There’s too many bloomin’ buzzards / sparrowhawks / red kites / sea eagles / goshawks / etc’ / [insert your own hooked-bill species here] you might want to point them to this paper.
You might also want to have a word with your local politician and point out that the release of non-native gamebirds is out of control and needs urgent regulation.