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

   Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology

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  Prof Jim Groombridge  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

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.

The supervisor for this project is Professor Jim Groombridge:

How to Apply

Candidates should apply using the online application form ( The closing date for applications is noon on 12th January 2022.

For applications for PhD Biodiversity Management at DICE:


There will be a two-stage interview process. The first round of interviews will take place on at the end of January 2022. Successful nominees will then participate in the second round of interviews, with the ARIES panel, in February 2022.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022.

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.
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