Pheasant shoot 'threat' to Devon nature reserve

Small pearl-bordered fritillary
Image caption Caterpillars of the pearl bordered fritillary and the pheasants feed on violets in the wood.

The future of a Devon nature reserve containing some of the UK's rarest butterfly species is being threatened by a pheasant shoot, it is claimed.

The Dunsford Reserve in the Teign Valley is a rare heathland habitat and home to the pearl-bordered fritillary whose caterpillars feed on violets growing on the 140-acre site.

Conservationists say the flowers are being eaten by the tens of thousands of pheasants being reared on land which surrounds the reserve.

Head warden Andrew Baker, of the Devon Wildlife Trust, also said the birds' droppings had an effect similar to "sprinkling fertiliser on a rare bit of grassland".

The pheasants, he said, "peck and scrape at everything" and in places had removed the top soil to a depth of up to six inches (15cm).

The reserve is classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), one of more than 4,000 in England.

'Hard evidence'

But Joe Scaife, whose home borders the reserve, said the once calm and peaceful atmosphere had been shattered by the shoot which is permitted to operate for up to 28 days a year.

"Some people have been showered by shot and some have had dead pheasants falling on them," he said.

The shoot's beaters are also walking through the reserve directing the birds into the air and towards the guns.

Natural England said the shoot did not seek its permission to start up near the reserve when it began two years ago.

Spokesman Simon England said: "They didn't come to Natural England for permission, or consent, to carry out the operation."

He added: "Had they asked for permission they would not have been allowed to operate in this way."

Any sign of damage to the reserve from the shoot would also be evidence of a criminal offence, according to Natural England.

Mr Lee said Natural England had approached the owners and managers of the shoot in an attempt to get them to operate away from the vicinity of the reserve but had not yet received a written reply.

'Unproven effect'

The shoot's owner, Peter Davidson, told BBC Inside Out he was unaware of the need to approach Natural England about their operation.

When asked about the possible damage to the butterfly population from the shoot, he said "can they give me some hard evidence?".

Later in a statement he said he had "co-operated at all times with Devon Wildlife Trust and Natural England" with regard to the "as yet unproven effect on the local habitat" of the shoot.

It adds that "no current damage has been alleged by either of those bodies, and we have agreed to discuss the issue in a meeting which will take place next month. It was also specifically agreed that no action needed to be taken for the moment.

"I will continue to liaise with Devon Wildlife Trust and Natural England and if either of those bodies have concerns I will work with them to resolve them."

The full Inside Out report can be seen in the South West at 1930 GMT on BBC 1 and BBC 1 HD.

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