GWCT, please check these statements

Seven week old pheasant chicks, often known as poults, after just being released into a gamekeepers release pen on an English shooting estate.

Wild Justice mounted a legal challenge to make DEFRA review harmful gamebird impacts which concluded last October when DEFRA agreed to license non-native gamebird releases – see here.

We expect DEFRA to issue a public consultation on their plans a week today. We will encourage our supporters to respond to that consultation – to receive hints and information then subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

We expect one of the key issues (on which we believe DEFRA must do better) will be to increase the buffer zone around designated sites in which gamebird releases will not be allowed. At present, as best we can tell, DEFRA are planning a 500m buffer zone. We have written to DEFRA pointing out that their suggested buffer zone is not based on science and certainly not based on the review of the subject which Natural England (and BASC!) commissioned.

This is a statement from George Eustice (Mr Eustice is a Cabinet minister and a farmer but not a professional biologist):

The negative effects of gamebird releases on protected sites tend to be localised with minimal or no effects beyond 500m from the point of release.

This statement has, as far as we can see, no basis in fact (see this long blog by Mark Avery).

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust set up a fact-checking website last August – see here. We believe that DEFRA’s statement (which may have come from Natural England originally) is in serious need of checking and then correction.

Here are areas where we would like GWCT to check the facts (and anyone else who wants to investigate the matter can do the same);

  • Does the Madden and Sage review (see here, and Rufus Sage is, after all, a staff member of GWCT) mention anywhere that Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges have minimal impacts on biodiversity beyond 500m from the point of release? (hint – it doesn’t)
  • Do the references in Madden and Sage (eg Turner (2007), Beardsworth et al. (in prep), Sage et al. (2001)) state that Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges travel no further than 500m from their point of release in their first year of life?
  • Does the GWCT stand by the view of their own Head of Advisory, Roger Draycott, who on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today said, and we quote, ‘the majority of birds [Pheasants] don’t disperse more than a kilometre‘ which clearly means that some disperse more than a kilometre and suggests that many disperse further than 500m.

We appreciate that GWCT might feel uncomfortable correcting the factual errors of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but we are sure they will wish to stand by the scientific statements of their staff in preference to sucking up to DEFRA.