08 April 2012

Peacocks and Pheasants: The Phony War

Pheasant's eggs, typically laid on the ground.
With the pleasures of spring comes the peacock calling season: bad news for some. I live in a cottage between four manor houses and it is a given that someone will keep peacocks. They waft around during the day and shriek like deranged cats at night. Gardeners loathe peacocks, for the same reason that they loathe pheasants, for the same reason that they loathe pigeons. Pigeons and lesser scratchers and peckers are very democratic in whom they choose to bother whereas peacocks and pheasants are a luxury problem. Gardeners on big estates and in the kitchen gardens nearby are not at all romantic about exotic fowl and would rather work in their exclusive orbit.

They share a dodo-ish lack of flying skills and both are good looking but pheasants are much more attractive to landowners than peacocks. Crucially the former bring in a good income from organised shoots: enough to justify the expense of a full-time gamekeeper (with cottage), a beater or two and the annual buying-in of chicks. Gardeners are frustrated by the whole vicious circle: the pheasants are maintained but the gardens of an estate are also expected to be maintained. During the long winters of avoiding death out in the open several times a week, pheasants take shelter in the highly polished areas and peck and dig and scratch, to the sound of distant gun fire. When the gardeners get really fed up they ask the gamekeeper to do something so he flushes out the pheasants and shoots them at close range, on the ground, wherever, with no sporting element at all. For the sake of the vicious circle, only the cocks are killed: the egg-layers are left alone. So, a lot of work goes into keeping things just as they are. The only war against pheasants is in the minds of gardeners.

My friend the exterminator, who is related to a retired head gamekeeper says: prevention is better than cure. Pheasants always go to the same places to feed so you won't get rid of them except, he says darkly, with 'a terminal lead injection'. Just country parlance for filling them with shot. However, if you want to go the 'cure' route, put nets over everything.

This post originally appeared in The Observer Organic Allotment Blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment