How Pheasant Shooting Reduces Native Woodland Plant And Animal Species
Animal advocates have long protested the traditional British “sport” of pheasant hunting, a cruel practice in which tens of millions of pheasants are born and bred in factory farming conditions only to be released and shot during annual hunting season. Beyond the obvious cruelty to the pheasants, the shooting causes a host of environmental problems, from waste runoff to habitat destruction.
The authors of this article, published in Biological Conservation, sought to determine how keeping pheasants in release pens in wooded areas (often the last step before the hunt begins) impacts plant and invertebrate communities. They recorded information about plant species and gathered samples of invertebrates at locations with and without release pens in several ancient woodlands in Great Britain.
Unsurprisingly, the authors found that the pheasant pens have detrimental effects on both plant and invertebrate species. As far as plants, they state that pens “result in major changes in the species composition of field layer vegetation,” with characteristic woodland species like honeysuckle and wood sorrel being replaced by heartier, invasive perennials such as spear thistle and nettle. They note that the changes are likely a result of both soil disturbances and higher concentrations of pheasant feces.
Similarly, while the researchers discovered no major differences in the abundance or richness of invertebrate life between pen and control sites, they found that the pens resulted in significant changes in species composition. Specifically, pen sites had higher concentrations of carabid (beetle) species suited to “arable and grassland” habitat and lower concentrations of larger carabid species (which are more vulnerable to predation), as well as species active during the spring (when pens are constructed).
The authors conclude that pheasant pens are creating a shift away true woodland plant and invertebrate species to non-woodland species. They re-iterate earlier recommendations to lower pheasant stocking densities and avoid locating pens in ancient woodlands and note that “it would be timely to re-evaluate the pheasant releasing system in Britain.” For advocates, the study provides further evidence of the negative impacts of the cruel and outdated practice of pheasant shooting.