Effects of pheasant management on vegetation and birds in lowland woodlands.
Releasing pheasants in woodlands for game shooting is a widespread practice in the British countryside. Apart from changes to ground flora in woodland release pens, the effects of pheasant releasing on woodland biodiversity are poorly understood. We surveyed 159 lowland broad-leaved woods in southern and eastern England during spring-summer 2004 to determine the impact of pheasant management on vegetation structure and composition and on bird populations. Eighty-one of the woods contained pheasant release pens with annual releases of pheasants and associated gamebird management such as supplementary feeding in winter. In the remaining 78 woods there had been no pheasant management for at least 25 years. We found that the pheasant-managed woods had a more open structure, with between 2% and 7% less canopy cover and a denser field layer with between 5% and 58% more ground vegetation cover, including grasses and bramble Rubus fruticosus. We recorded approximately 40% more birds in woods in southern England and between 22% and 32% more birds were observed in pheasant-managed woods than control woods. Woodpigeons and warblers were more abundant in pheasant-managed woods. Synthesis and applications: We conclude that the impacts of pheasant releasing on vegetation structure and bird communities in woodlands are benign or positive. This study demonstrates that some aspects of woodland management for pheasants, including reducing the extent of canopy cover can encourage growth of understorey vegetation which helps create favourable conditions for some woodland bird species.