Nature is brutally awesome…
I watched a Great Black-backed Gull eat a Mallard alive today.
It was a tremendous display of power from a brute bird and exhilarating to watch. Witnessing this gory bit of behaviour was almost as rewarding as finding a scarce bird on patch. It was removing chunks of flesh at the same time as the Mallard was swimming away! I mean you don’t see that everyday do you?
I made a short video for your pleasure, be sure to play with the sound up:
Whilst this Mallard in particular met a pretty torturous end don’t worry too much, there are another 9,999 left!
No, really. My local patch is Livermere, adjacent to Great Livermere village in West Suffolk. It is managed primarily for shoots: duck, goose, pheasant, partridge and even deer. I spoke with the game keeper yesterday and there are literally 10,000 Mallard present, largely comprised of released birds to stock up the mere ahead of the shooting season which will start on the 1st September.
Despite the intensive management for game, Livermere has a pretty outstanding track record for rare and scarce birds. This weekend alone I have found Wood Sandpiper and Black-necked Grebe. Both great passage birds anywhere in Suffolk, but particularly so far inland. So, despite the primary function of shooting, the released birds and the resulting ecological impacts, Livermere remains a great birding spot. Perhaps a little hard work at times but always unpredictable: mid shooting season last year, on 2nd December a Grey Phalarope turned up. It didn’t even leave with the morning wildfowl shoot!
In summary some birds benefit from the shooting management of the estate – but perhaps not as many as if it was managed for wildlife.
But where does that leave me?
I love visiting, I’ll chat with the gamekeeper, and I enjoy the birds. Am I hypocritical because I find it cruel that Mallard are released en masse to be shot, and I worry about the resulting lead shot poisoning the food chain?
Is it even worse that I would eat a Pheasant or Mallard?
I think it probably is. However, it is surely more worrying that they both need to be released in such huge numbers to meet punter demand? And the use of leaded munitions seems unforgivable if any alternative is available.
Back in January during the Foot It challenge I walked through the estate during a Saturday shoot. It was mental. Deer were fleeing in all directions, all the Buzzards were circling over their respective coverts, and pheasant were literally raining out of the sky. The only small mercy was that the game cover and high quality feed put out for the shoot meant I year-ticked Yellowhammer and Brambling amidst the Blitzkrieg!
This experience coincided with me watching Gunsmoke and Mirrors having seen it linked from Talking Naturally. It really shocked me and led me to question my diet, my championing of Livermere, and also any action I could take.
The neighbouring Buzzards haven’t been persecuted in favour of the shoots to my knowledge nor have any other raptors. Just today I had a Marsh Harrier drift over without issue. But we do know shooting estates persecute raptors and in particular Buzzards, an ever-growing list of prosecutions is testament to this!
So, my patch is linked to many of the issues aired on Talking Naturally lately. It is the converse of the WWT revelations. Instead of keeping Mallard and other native breeders separate to released birds, they are encouraged in – albeit to be shot! Whilst I don’t think the gamekeepers locally kill Buzzards their kin certainly do, with or without Natural England support.
Through Talking Naturally I hope to share experiences and the issues that affect me. It would be great to hear from readers who bird on or adjacent to shooting estates about your experiences. Does anyone else have these niggling attacks of conscience?
In the meantime I enjoy my visits to Livermere, the waders and ‘wild’-wildfowl that manage amongst the Mallard deluge. It was especially gratifying to see the Great Black-backed Gull making good of the situation…
About Jonny Rankin:
My Twitter bio says ‘Heavy metal bastard, dog owner, rider, birder, collector of tattoos and learner of moths.’
I am all of those things. Well, technically I am not a bastard as I have a father, that aside it is a pretty accurate description. In addition I volunteer for the RSPB and fundraise for the multi-partner Operation Turtle Dove.
Whilst I like the principle of the vegetarian and animal welfare efforts that Charlie pursues, I cannot claim to be vegetation or be so concerned about captive animal welfare. My output is wholly concentrated on the natural world.
Birds are my main area of interest and I am out in the field everyday. As with most people nowadays in addition to my own experiences I am exposed to a number of issues via my online reading. So I am going to ‘Talk Naturally’ from my perspective, it may not always be correct or even reasonable but it will be honest.
My most desired birds are Albatross (any!) and to self find Black Duck. The best birding Counties are Durham, Suffolk and Caithness.
I hope you enjoy (or depending who you are – get really upset by) my posts. Feel free to comment or send hate mail to me via Twitter @Jonny09Jonny