Sudeley Castle and Gardens, has achieved the largest UK hatching of critically-endangered Edwards’s pheasants, in a feat for conservation of one of the most threatened groups of birds in the world.
Five chicks have successfully reached their six-month birthday and fledged, thanks to a breeding programme led by Sudeley Castle’s Gamekeeper, John Sherlock, who is a member of the World Pheasant Association (WPA).
This is Sherlock’s third attempt to breed this rare species at Sudeley Castle, which has long been home to one of the largest public collections of endangered species of pheasants from around the world. Currently 17 species are kept at the castle pheasantry, which was first established by the late Lord Ashcombe in the 1980s.
Endemic to the rainforests of Vietnam, the Edwards’s Pheasant, which is known for its red legs and facial skin, suffered from deforestation, hunting and the use of defoliants during the Vietnam War. The species was listed critically-endangered in 2012 and the population is currently believed to number between 50 and 249, although they haven’t been seen in the wild for almost 20 years.
The Sudeley Castle pheasantry works closely with the WPA to manage breeding and conservation programmes for many of the rarest species, including Reeves’s pheasants, Crawfurds Kalij, firebacks, Japanese green pheasants, true silver pheasants and blue- and brown-eared pheasants.
Sudeley Castle’s Gamekeeper, John Sherlock, said: “Sudeley Castle is home to one of the largest public collections of rare and endangered species of pheasants from around the world. Despite being a common sight across fields, hedgerows and woodlands throughout the UK, pheasants are among the most endangered group of birds in the world. Our work is focused on protecting and conserving these beautiful creatures.”
The four pairs of Edwards’s pheasants that currently reside at Sudeley Castle all came from the UK, Holland, Southern Ireland and Germany, as part of an international effort to conserve the species.
To give them the most natural rearing environment and behavioural cues thought to lead to successful pairing, nest building and parenting, the five new chicks were all reared by their four-year-old parents. If they are parent-reared for two to three generations, they can be reintroduced into their natural habitat - ideally Vietnam - with local support for the breeding programme.
John Sherlock, added: “We are delighted with the hatching of these chicks, which is a huge boost for the captive breeding programme, and more so to see them thrive.
“It is very sad to consider that the captive Edwards‘s pheasant population may be the only examples of this species left. As a custodian of the species, we have a huge responsibility to ensure that the captive population is conserved and capable of being returned to its homeland in Vietnam, when conditions allow.”
The Edwards’s pheasant has previously been bred in Scotland, but Sudeley’s programme has produced the largest hatching in the UK to date.
The UK breeding programme is managed by Ian Clark, long-time trustee of the WPA, which holds the bloodline information of the Edwards’s pheasant as it has a very small gene pool.
Of the Sudeley’s five hatched chicks, one will remain in the pheasantry with its parents, while the others will be donated to other zoos and collectors.
Visitors can meet the resident pheasants throughout the seasons, with entry to the pheasantry being included in the standard admission price.