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Pheasant releases ‘could wipe out adders in most of Britain’

An adder expert has accused the shooting community of 'uncontrolled' game bird releases


A recent article in The Guardian stating that adders are endangered due to “uncontrolled release of millions of game birds” is incorrect say the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO).

The piece highlights the claim of Nigel Hand, a trustee of Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK (ARG UK), who states: “The adder is on the brink of extinction in many sites across Britain … and it is the uncontrolled release of millions of pheasants by shooting estates which is pushing it over the brink.”

Many reasons for decline

There are actually many reasons for the adder’s decline; loss of habitat, persecution, predation, disturbance and inbreeding. Although pheasants do kill and eat adders, the reptile’s decline is not solely due to gamebirds. Furthermore, as the weather becomes warmer, adders are spotted year-round, when previously the snakes hibernated underground from October to March, meaning that they are now are present during the pheasant season.

No robust evidence of pheasant predation

Dr Rufus Sage, Head of Lowland Gamebird Research at the GWCT spoke directly to Shooting UK on the issue, commenting: “While adder populations are declining in the UK, it is likely that habitat loss and degradation and disturbance are the most important factors.  There is no robust evidence that pheasant predation affects the UK adder population or contributes to the decline or loss of local populations, as suggested.

“The headlines referring to extinctions by 2032 are misleading (see the GWCT ‘What the Science Says’ piece for details).  In the context of other modern land-uses however, pheasants are a plausible contributing factor to local declines.  GWCT best practice guidelines ask game managers to consider and avoid especially sensitive sites and this should include siting release pens on or next to known adder colonies.  Further research on the potential impacts of gamebird release on reptiles is required.”