Facts about


Scientific name: Phasianus colchicus

Bird Family: Pheasants

UK conservation status: Introduced

At a glance

  • A Eurasian species released here in huge numbers by the shooting industry.
  • Up to 40 million pheasants are released every year to be shot for ‘sport’.
  • In 2020 Defra added the Common Pheasant to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which contains species which cause ecological, environmental or socio-economic harm.

Most people in the UK know what an adult Common Pheasant looks like. That’s testament to the enormous impact the shooting industry has on our countryside, because this now widespread bird is native to Asia and is only commonly found here because pheasants are released in huge numbers every year just to be shot.

Small, possibly viable populations of pheasants now exist in areas where shooting is rife (especially southern England), but the shooting industry’s own figures indicate that more than 40 MILLION Common Pheasants are released annually (along with around 10 million non-native Red-legged Partridges).

  • So many birds are released to be shot that if the biomass (or weight) of all the birds in the UK in the autumn (when pheasant and red-legged numbers are at their peak) could be added up,  approaching around HALF of the entire total would be these two species alone!

Most of the birds released to be shot are imported from Europe, as chicks and reared in pens on shooting estates.

Our recent undercover investigation with the Hunt Investigation Team looking into the pheasant pens at Leighton Hall discovered filthy conditions and many diseased or dead birds, showing just how badly the industry sometimes treats what many shoots simply see as a disposable asset to be produced in huge numbers for the gun.

  • According to the industry’s own figures, 37.5% of released pheasants were shot on (or off) shooting  estates like Leighton Hall. A quarter die before shooting even starts, a further 16% survive until after the shooting season.

Leighton Hall itself is close to the nationally-important nature reserves of Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay, raising the appalling spectre of diseases like Avian Flu being spread into these important sites.


Common Pheasants are omnivores – meaning they will eat pretty much everything. Releasing millions of birds with large appetites (these are relatively large birds remember) into an already depleted landscape is ecologically nonsensical. Common Pheasants have been recorded catching scarce reptiles like Slow Worms and amphibians, and the birds that survive the early winter will take food needed by native seed-eating species during what is called the ‘hungry gap’ when everything is in short supply and wild birds are beginning to enter the breeding season.

On top of this, many Common Pheasants die on our roads. In fact, 2017 research from Cardiff University and Exeter University found that pheasants are 13 times more likely to die on roads than other birds, and that almost 7% of all roadkill on Britain’s roads involve pheasants.

Roadkill often provides food for foxes and crows – the very same animals that gamekeepers are employed to relentlessly target and kill because they say they’re ‘too common’.

After huge pressure from the campaign group Wild Justice, in October 2020 Defra (the government department responsible for the environment) acknowledged the damage that all these birds might do (especially if released near protected sites or nature reserves) and added both the Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which contains species which cause ecological, environmental or socio-economic harm (such as Signal Crayfish and Japanese Knotweed).

(Two other species of non-native pheasant – the Golden Pheasant and Lady Amherst’s Pheasant – also occur here in the UK but in extremely low numbers. They mainly originate from private collections.)


Despite the harm caused by pheasant shooting, pheasants themselves receive virtually no protection at all from conservation organisations which argue that they don’t have the resources to protect all species and can only focus on ones of conservation concern.

Ignoring the welfare and killing of millions of birds because they’re ‘not rare’ or ‘non-native’ is not a position Protect the Wild will ever support.