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Birds hit hard by cold spring weather say gamekeepers

Around the UK gamekeepers are reporting failed egg clutches and delayed hatching as a result of the unseasonably wet and cold weather this spring

hen pheasant

Hen pheasants nest facing the wind

With the Met Office reporting a cooler than average May (-0.8°C) and a 157 per cent average rainfall across the UK that month, many birds were left feeling the chill.

Lindsay Waddell, headkeeper at the Raby estate, and Shooting Times contributor, described spring conditions in Teesdale as “bitterly cold with snow on high ground”.

On the state of the birds, Lindsay revealed: “Many of the high ground waders, golden plover and dunlin simply gave up the unequal struggle a few weeks ago.

“Some of the wild pheasants, of which we have a lot, have returned to feed with my poultry, which is not a good sign in that it would appear they have lost their entire brood. Some hardy souls will have made it, but it’s been a hard time for anything young.”

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In the Midlands, Liam Bell of the Millichope estate, and Shooting Times contributor, found that: “What started out as a reasonably warm, dry spring turned into not so much a wet one, as one of lower than average temperatures. The low temperatures and continued cold winds have affected egg numbers, with our pheasant hens laying fewer eggs per hen than they have for the past 10-15 years. Fertility has been good, as has hatchability, we’ve just had too few eggs.”

Francis Buner, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s lead scientist at the Rotherfield Demonstration Project in east Hampshire, said their birds seem to have fared better: “Luckily we didn’t have such extreme weather conditions here at Rotherfield and I am pretty confident that the breeding season for grey partridges is progressing as well as can be at this stage.

“For pheasants it’s a bit different. They often have early broods and we have seen a handful already. Whether the cold weather had any damaging effect is not that clear as pheasant chicks are not as dependent on insects as partridge chicks are.

“But as it’s been rather cold, some pheasant chicks or even broods might well have died from simple chilling. I have already lost a complete brood of wild mallard for that very reason.”