Assessing the ecological impacts of non-native gamebird release on reptiles in the UK


Assessing the ecological impacts of non-native gamebird release on reptiles in the UK


Project Description


Professor Jim Groombridge (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent) – Contact me

Dr Jake Bicknell (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent)

Dr Lucy Mason (Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science)

Dr John Wilkinson (Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) Trust)

Dr Will Peach, Head of Conservation Science England and Wales, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

Dr Malcolm Burgess, Principal Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

Emeritus Professor Richard Griffiths, DICE, University of Kent

Jim Foster, Conservation Director, ARC Trust


Project Background

Each year, 57 million non-native gamebirds are released into the UK countryside for recreational shooting. This number vastly exceeds any other gamebird release in Europe or North America, with released Ring-necked pheasant and red-legged partridge representing more than twice the biomass of all native UK breeding birds combined. The increasing number of gamebirds released in the UK has triggered questions about the ecological impacts of this activity amongst conservationists, policymakers and within the shooting community itself. While there is evidence that game estate management can benefit biodiversity, questions remain about potential ecological impacts of gamebird release on native fauna and flora. Anecdotal evidence suggests that gamebird release may be having negative impacts on protected species of reptile, but conclusive studies are lacking. Understanding the impacts of large-scale releases of gamebirds represents a major challenge.

Research methodology

The student will (i) investigate associations between gamebird and reptile distributions across different spatial scales in the UK, (ii) design and perform field experiments to examine potential fine-scale population impacts of gamebird interactions, (iii) use qualitative interviews to determine the socio-economic drivers behind documented increases in gamebird releases, and (iv) determine reptile contribution to gamebird diet.


The student will be supported by a team of scientists drawn from DICE, RSPB and the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC) Trust with extensive experience in UK conservation science, practice and policy, and reptile conservation. The student will gain skills in GIS and species distribution modelling, field experimental design , breeding bird survey (BBS) and reptile survey methods, transects and camera trapping, qualitative interviews and potentially molecular methods for diet analyses (benefiting from NERC facilities). The student will benefit from existing spatio-temporal datasets on gamebird release (available from APHA poultry register) and reptile distribution (via ARC Trust). The applied nature of the collaborative partnership supporting this project will ensure findings drive evidence-based policy and management resulting in lasting impact.

Person specification

Relevant degree such as biology or conservation. Demonstrable aptitude for interdisciplinary research combining natural and social sciences. Good quantitative skills. Experience with reptile fieldwork. Strong interpersonal skills.


  • 1) Mason, L.R., Bicknell, J.E., Smart, J. & Peach, W.J. (2020) The impacts of non-native gamebird release in the UK: an updated evidence review. RSPB Research Report No. 66. RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, Sandy, UK.
  • 2) Madden J.R. & Sage, R.B. 2020. Ecological Consequences of Gamebird Releasing and Management on Lowland Shoots in England: A Review by Rapid Evidence Assessment for Natural England and the British Association of Shooting and Conservation. Natural England Evidence Review NEER016. Peterborough: Natural England.
  • 3) Aebischer, N. (2019) Fifty-year trends in UK hunting bags of birds and mammals, and calibrated estimation of national bag size, using GWCT’s National Gamebag Census. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 65: 64.
  • 4) Sage, R. B., Hoodless, A. N., Woodburn, M. I. A., Draycott, R. A. H., Madden, J. R., & Sotherton, N. W. (2020). Summary review and synthesis: effects on habitats and wildlife of the release and management of pheasants and red-legged partridges on UK lowland shoots. Wildlife Biology, 4, wlb.00766.
  • 5) Edgar, P., Foster, J. and Baker, J., 2010. Reptile habitat management handbook. Bournemouth: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

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