Most pheasants seem to leave this plane of existence with either a thump or a bang.
Pheasants are birds of very little brain with very large suicidal tendencies and will frequently step or fly out in front of cars with no warning. Particularly when they are preoccupied with strutting their stuff and proving to all around that they are the largest/strongest/prettiest of the lot. All too often when this happens they are converted into road kill with a feather-muffled thump.
They are also relatively slow and steady fliers, making them a popular target for game shooters. With an average level of shooting skill and a loaded shotgun a quick bang-bang turns them into dead meat. Because of this high popularity rating in the game bird league hundreds of thousands of pheasants are released onto shooting estates every year. More birds = more shoots = more money. It’s a simple equation.
Farndale is a delightful little dale in the North York Moors National Park that runs alongside the beautifully named River Dove. It is famed for its springtime displays of wild daffodils which have earned it a Local Nature Reserve status, and its other wild flowers and plants justify its Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) designation. As you may have gathered, it’s an exceptional place.
I’ve just been reading of someone who had overloaded this dale with pheasants. Way overloaded, to the point of degrading the SSI (it’s not difficult to imagine how this could happen as a foraging pheasant pecking at seeds on the ground is akin to someone using an excavator to pick up an acorn). I don’t imagine that he started off with that intent, but began by simply chipping away at the legal boundary, a little bit here, a little bit there until (almost without realising it) the line has not only been crossed but was so far behind him that there was no going back. Such behaviour seems to be usually driven by either obsession, passion or (as was judged to be the case here) greed – and it seems to me that where money is involved the greatest excesses tend to follow.
It would be easy, after reading of a case like this, to boo and hiss at the nasty man before cheering as he is carted off to the gallows to be hung. But I can still empathise with him even if I can’t condone his actions. As passionate, and maybe even obsessive, nature photographers we are constantly confronted with our own boundaries; boundaries such as accessibility, protection, subject well-being etc. and the temptation is always there to chip away and risk crossing the line. And some do. I don’t know about you, but I think that it is when we are faced with an ‘inconvenient’ boundary that our true character shows through.
From time to time I pass through Farndale and lately I haven’t noticed anything particularly unusual about the number of pheasants in the area. However, over the last couple of years I have repeatedly driven alongside towering stone walls that have been topped with dozens upon dozens of another game bird, red-legged partridges. They are smaller and less reluctant to take to the wing than pheasants, so they aren’t as favoured in the shooting stakes. But in the absence of anything else I imagine that they will definitely do. Is that the faint sound of chipping that I can hear in the distance?