Studies have shown that over half of the over-winter supplementary grain provided to sustain game birds is consumed by pest species like rats.
The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust carried out a new study to record how much food is wasted on non-target animals, with the conclusion that up to 67 per cent is eaten by rats, pigeons and corvids, leaving just a third to feed vulnerable game birds.
The study, carried out by Dr Carlos Sanchez-Garcia and supervised by Dr Francis Buner from the GWCT, involved covering 260 game feeders with camera traps to record animals feeding. Data was accrued over the winters of 2012 and 2013, with over 160,000 photographs taken to illustrate which species was benefiting from the supplementary feed the most.
Carlos Sanchez-Garcia, explains the significance of this study: “Our previous research has shown how much gamebirds and declining farmland bird species benefit from this important activity and how it improves their breeding performance later in the year. However, over-winter feeding is both time-consuming and costly, and without mitigation measures being applied to control unwelcome visitors, more than half of the food may be consumed by non-target species.”
Over the two-year period, the top species visiting the feeders were pheasant, woodpigeon, rat, mice, dunnock, grey partridge, blackbird, yellowhammer, rook and red-legged partridge, plus 15 species of songbird, including house sparrows and linnets.
Carlos Sanchez-Garcia added: “Our previous studies stress the need to continue feeding in late winter and we would recommend that feeders are placed along hedgerows when efficient control of rats is maintained and to place feeders in open fields when no efficient rat control is carried out. A regular change of the feeder location (every 7-10 days) is also recommended to reduce the impact of rodents and other unwelcome visitors.”