The World Pheasant Association isn’t only about gamebirds with long tails – it aims to study and conserve all the world’s Galliformes, explains TIM LOVEL. Words by Nick West
WITH more than 25 per cent of the world’s gamebird species threatened, you’d think Professor Tim Lovel, chairman of the World Pheasant Association (WPA), would be worried. But he says: “We feel relatively confident that we won’t lose many species, if any, because we can raise funds and target those species in danger, when needed. I’m proud of our increasing professionalism.
“We employ four people now and during my chairmanship we’ve joined forces with the University of Newcastle. We’re regarded as a very serious-minded group of people, who’ve come a long way from the ‘get ’em in cages and breed ’em up quick’ style of conservation.”
Founded in 1975 by Tim Lovel, Keith Howman, Iain Grahame and their wives, over dinner, the association now has affiliate organisations all over the world. Tim comments: “We had all kept gamebirds, particularly pheasants, and we wanted to promote the avicultural side of them, but we also realised that in their natural habitat some of them were becoming extremely rare. And if action wasn’t taken many species would become extinct.”
Although he works full-time as an NHS hospice consultant, Tim Lovel also finds the time to run an organisation that spans the globe. He says: “My wife and I helped set up sections in France, Benelux, Germany, India, Pakistan, Nepal, China and many more. The founders of the association divided the world up into three and set about making contacts. We have a bi-annual convention when all the national sections turn up and they too all have their own conventions.”
Tim tells a story of a convention they held back in 1978 in Inverness, Scotland, which took them a while to get over in more ways than one: “Our great mistake was to allow the hotel owner, who was a supporter, to give all the delegates four days of drinks on the house. The bill was unbelievable. It was prodigious. The hotel owner footed the bill because he was an enthusiast and thought it would help our conference. The conference was a great success, but the word went round Europe that here was a group of English aristocrats who could afford anything – including funding their research project. It took us years to undo this image of the ultra-rich British who throw money around.”
From bantams to budgies
A true aviculturalist, Tim keeps copper, golden and Amherst pheasants, tragopans, racing pigeons, bantams and budgerigars. He says: “I’m very serious about budgerigars. I breed the clearwing variety. And I’m a member of the BS and the Clearwing Budgerigar Association. I used to judge in the 1950s. I think they’re lovely and they are so trouble-free.”
Although Tim shoots game, he says he sees no contradiction between that and keeping birds. He comments: “After forming the association, I continued to shoot. Some find this a bit of a contradiction, but I never found it difficult. For example, the red grouse: 50 percent of red grouse die every year whether you shoot them or not. They have a very short life. The longest lived ever recorded has been four and a half years old. If you don’t shoot them in September, nature takes many of them in February through extremes of weather, lack of territory and inability to find enough food.”
The WPA, like so many conservation-led organisations, seeks to do its key work in the field. Tim says: “We have to do the work in the wild. We help raise money for other organisations and we have our own projects. We were very successful recently with our projects in South America with the Galliformes there – the curassows and chachalacas. We’ve found if we can get a good project, we can interest the big philanthropic organisations – mainly ones set up by people who have made a lot of money and want to do good.
“There’s one charity by a famous shipping magnate called Sir John Ellerman. He was rich, reclusive and ran the Ellerman line of ships and when he died he left a lot of money to the Ellerman Foundation. They support the kind of things that we do and they’ve been very generous.”
He continues: “We also get a lot of help from the Duke of Northumberland, who is one of our strongest patrons and gives us a lot of help and valuable advice on what to do and who to approach. He gets much more involved than just giving us money. He hosts events for us. When people get an invitation saying ‘the Duke of Northumberland requests the pleasure of...’ they come on board.”
Protection through education
Asia is immensely rich in gamebirds and the WPA is highly active there. “We aim to educate the local population and to make the birds more valuable to the people who live there. In other words, more valuable alive than in the pot. Ecotourism is hugely valuable and teaching is a major part of what we do. We’ve had a project in Nepal for more than 20 years – we’re building and equipping schools in villages around Annapurna.
“Education is hugely valuable to stop people needlessly eating birds and cutting down all the bamboo for firewood, which the birds need for nesting cover.”
Tim comments that the situation has improved immeasurably in China since the association began working there. He says: “When we started in 1978, there were only six working ornithologists in China, in a country 20 times the size of France. Now there are hundreds, all working to European standards of science.”
One area of conservation Tim has a keen interest in is the future of the capercaillie. “Grouse were the original European game bird long before the pheasants or partridge were imported. The capercaillie, red grouse, the ptarmigan. It was a great idea to reintroduce the capercaillie.
“The trouble is that Scotland is changing all the time and for the capercaillie it hasn’t changed for the good. Those deer fences they collide with are not good news. What’s more, the goshawk is resurgent there, and goshawks love a capercaillie.”
Tim believes it’s important to look on conservation projects as long-term commitments. He cites the reintroduction of the capercaillie to Germany and would like to see its return to England. He says: “In the Harz mountains in Germany, the capercaillie was extinct, where the species had once been plentiful. A colleague of mine started breeding and releasing them. For 10-12 years he’d release them every autumn. And it took 10 years to get them established.
“I’d like to see them back in England. There’s evidence, from bones found in caves along the River Tees, that capercaillie did live here in England. The best place to reintroduce them via translocation would be the great forest of Kielder. It’s enormous, and big and dry enough. (They tried to reintroduce them on the west coast in Cumbria once, but it was too wet.) They do have many goshawks in Kielder, which live off rabbits, red squirrels and woodpigeons and who would love a juicy capercaillie, so it would take an enormous amount of effort and would have to be maintained over many years.”
Tim concludes saying: “I’ve met some very interesting people over the years, from princes to paupers to policemen.” Such is the world of the international pheasant keeper!
Getting started with aviary pheasants
WHEN it comes to keeping pheasants, Tim can wax lyrical. He says the attractions are infinite: “The sheer beauty of the animal, the contrast of shape and colour and form, make them hugely appealing to keep. And of course the breeding behaviour is fascinating.
“I’d say cut your teeth on Amherst’s and golden and then, like the rest of us, move on to Reeves’s and Elliot’s pheasants, and then progress to all sorts of things thereafter, such as the tropical green peacock, which needs to be kept frost-free.
“I have a colleague in Saarbrucken, Germany, who spends his life keeping 10 or 15 aviaries of green peacocks at a constant 7ºC (44.6ºF). They are so nervous and easily spooked by an owl or car headlight that he has to lock them into frost-proof enclosures every night of their lives.
“He doesn’t keep anything else. He lives and breathes the green peacock, as well as being the head of police, of course.”
Nick West is the deputy editor of Cage & Aviary Birds.
To learn more about the work of the World Pheasant Association, see its website: www.pheasant.org.uk