When you cut a ride into a wood for your pheasants you could be helping a host of other wildlife species. That is what the Game Conservancy Trust (GCT) aims to investigate with its latest research project. Open woodland, with canopies that let the light in, is ideal for gamebirds, as well as providing good undergrowth cover for warmth and protection. The one-year study, funded by the Countryside Alliance (CA), now aims to ascertain to what degree the same conditions benefit other plants and animals.

The GCT has been carrying out research over the past five years in more than 160 woods to try to establish the difference between shooting woods and those left to nature. The new project will be an extension of that research.

Dr Rufus Sage, head of the GCT?s lowland gamebird unit, said: ?We visited 43 ancient semi-natural woodland release sites to carry out botanical surveys, as well as studying woodland birds in summer and winter in another 159 English woods, half of which were managed for shooting. We have also surveyed field hedgerows on 109 shoots and have measured in detail the effect on plants and insects of redlegged partridges at six sensitive chalk grassland sites.

?For this new one-year research project we will be concentrating on the woodland rides within the same sample of 160 woods. We aim to see whether there are more of these sunny clearings created in the centre of woodlands for pheasants than in non-pheasant woods, and to investigate whether they support more varied communities of plants and other wildlife.?

Robert Gray, campaign director for the CA, told ST: ?Shooting Times readers know that gameshooting delivers great things for the British countryside, but we need to win over a large army of sceptics. There has been plenty of research on wild game, but the CA wanted to concentrate on the benefits of reared gamebird shooting, because that is the main activity for most people involved in organised shooting today. The opinion-formers of tomorrow need to know that shooting equals conservation, and so we hope this valuable new study by the GCT will confirm that.?