Adders counting the cost

Adders cannot bite through pheasants’ feathers.

Shooting bodies need to take note of a story published in the Daily Telegraph (30th September), which details the decline of adders in this country. Quoted in the article, Nigel Hand of the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK, lays the blame firmly at the door of the shooting community and the numbers of pheasant which survive the season to go on and prey on the snakes.  Invulnerable to the adders’ venom because of their dense feathers, these pheasants are already in the frame accused of competing with wild birds for scarce winter food supplies.

It is no coincidence that this story has appeared just a few weeks ahead of a judicial review of the practice of gamebird release. No one knows how many birds are released each year, with estimates varying between 35 and 50 million. Similarly, no one has the faintest idea how many escape the firing line, but it is clear that even a modest percentage can and will have an impact on their environment. To what extent is open to question, but the news about the snakes’ plight adds further to a growing body of evidence that militates against game shooting. Time is running out. The shooting organisations are on sticky ground here for having long argued that the work gamekeepers and shoot owners do controlling corvids and other pests protects and aids more vulnerable species, they now run the risk of being accused of doing nothing to control a species apparently doing similar damage.

BASC and the other shooting bodies need to have a clear response on this. Whilst predation from reared pheasant is not the only reason for the decline in the adder, it is becoming abundantly clear that the sheer numbers of released birds that survive the season are unbalancing the scales against a range of species which already under severe pressure.

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