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After the species' intentional introduction at Woburn in the 1890s, the main British population of Lady Amherst's Pheasant established itself along the Greensand Ridge of Bedfordshire, spreading naturally west into Buckinghamshire. The extensive mixed pine, ash, oak and beech woodlands in the area (with an introduced rhododendron understorey) appear to have made a passable analogue for its native deciduous forest and bamboo thickets. However, similar habitat elsewhere in Britain seems to have been unable to sustain numerous other introduction attempts over the last two centuries.

Native to south-western China and Burma, Lady Amherst's Pheasant was added to the British Ornithological Union's British List in 1971 on the basis of the Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire population, which by then was estimated to have reached up to 200 pairs during surveys at the time for the British Trust for Ornithology's The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland.

Lady Amherst's Pheasant
Lady Amherst's Pheasant, Lidlington, Bedfordshire (Photo: Josh Jones)

By the late 1980s, the Bedfordshire population had already undergone a notable decline, with a male-heavy ratio of around 65–75 per cent (though females are harder to detect and identify), and there were apparently no more than 40 individuals of the species by 2001. By 2008 it was thought that just five male 'Lady A's remained, with two reported last year; only one male has been seen so far in 2015. Reasons for this decline have been mooted as loss of habitat, degradation of the understorey — particularly from grazing by the also introduced Chinese Muntjac — increased predation, disturbance (including by birders) and inbreeding within a very small gene pool.

By any interpretation this looks like an extinction curve, and with the species only present in Britain for about 125 years — at times artificially fed — it could be argued that this species was never a true part of the British avifauna and, like Red-winged Laughingthrush on the Isle of Man, Lady Amherst's Pheasant may never have been truly 'established'.


Lady Amherst's Pheasant, Lidlington, Bedfordshire (Photo: Josh Jones)

Nevertheless this secretive yet beautiful species, along with Golden Pheasant, has traditionally been considered highly desirable by British birders and the ever-increasing rarity of Lady Amherst's only adds to its enigmatic aura. If this male is indeed the last of its kind surviving on the Greensand Ridge, he represents the sole remnant of a population that has enchanted British birders and drawn them to this pocket of the Home Counties for a number of decades.

In 2005, the British Ornithologists' Union (BOU) added Lady Amherst's Pheasant to Category C6 of the British list, a sub-category dedicated to 'formerly naturalised species' which are either extinct or no longer self-sustaining. This categorical reshuffle essentially renders uncountable any individuals not from the original, self-sustaining population, so the few remaining birds on the Greensand Ridge consequently became even more desirable to birders lacking the species on their lists. If the 2015 male is indeed the last remaining, there can be little argument that he represents a 'Holy Grail' of introduced birds.

Once this final, presumably old-aged, individual perishes, it will bring a colourful era to an end. While the argument persists that Lady Amherst's Pheasant has never formed a natural part of Britain's birdlife, it would be hard not to feel a pang of regret over the loss of such an exquisite and hard-to-see bird, whether from our countryside or our lists.

How to see the Lady Amherst's Pheasant

The (presumed) final male Lady Amherst's Pheasant resides at Millbrook Proving Ground near Lidlington, Bedfordshire. The site itself is both sensitive and strictly private, though the pheasant's favoured area can be viewed through the fence from a public footpath along the site's perimeter.

Park carefully by the church on Church Street in Lidlington (SP990389), cross the High Street and follow the footpath through the churchyard to the perimeter fence. Follow the footpath up the hill for c.200 metres to the top of some wooden 'steps' (SP993386; 52.0375, -0.5528). The pheasant favours the woodland ride, viewed north through the fence. Its appearances are sporadic, unpredictable and tend to be very brief, though it may become quite vocal throughout the spring. Viewing is only possible from this location and under no circumstances should birders try to enter the site. The Millbrook team have been particularly understanding and have gone as far as to install a seed hopper along the ride, with the aim of encouraging the bird to show more regularly.

A more detailed version of these directions can be found on the Bedfordshire Bird Club website. Sightings updates on the remaining Lady Amherst's Pheasant will be broadcast on Bird News Extra as and when reports are forthcoming.


Looking through the fence and along the woodland ride. The Lady Amherst's Pheasant usually shows towards the top of the ride, at the crest of the hill (Photo: Sam Viles)

References

Balmer, D, Gillings, S, Caffrey, B, Swann, B, Downie, I, and Fuller, R. 2013. Bird Atlas 2007-11. BTO, Thetford.
Nightingale, B. 2005. The status of Lady Amherst's Pheasant in Britain. British Birds 98: 20-25.

Related pages

Lady Amherst's Pheasant Lady Amherst's Pheasant


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The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (10)

#1
It's probably true that Lady A's was never truly self-sustaining. When the species was added to Cat C in 1971 (Ibis 113:420-3), the definition of Cat C was: 'Species which, although originally introduced by man, have now established a regular feral breeding stock which apparently maintains itself without necessary recourse to further introduction.' (My emphasis). Now the definition has hardened up, i.e. in the most recent BOU List: 'Species that, although introduced, now derive from the resulting self-sustaining populations.' i.e. no longer 'apparently', with a higher level of proof required than the treatment given in 1971. To accommodate this change, category C6 was created for 'Former naturalized species – species formerly placed in C1 whose naturalized populations either are no longer self-sustaining or are considered extinct', currently only including Lady A.
   Martin Collinson, 09/04/15 23:41Report inappropriate post Report 
#2
There is obviously no denying the birds "beauty" but why bother? Hassle, potential trespass issues and the dreaded photographers - save your fuel or find something worth looking at. I have never understood the fascination for listing/listers for these introduced spp. Maybe it's me?.....
   Laurie Allan, 10/04/15 04:50Report inappropriate post Report 
#3
Can't help thinking Golden Pheasant will be following Lady Amherst's onto C6. The Wolferton birds seem to be to population hanging on the best but recent published photos suggest they may not be particularly pure
   Jeff Higgott, 10/04/15 18:44Report inappropriate post Report 
#4
Saw it today - no hassle, no trespassers, and no photographers! You may have to wait 4 or 5 hours though. My first 'twitch' for more than a decade, but not sure a 45 minute drive is too bad! And when you do see it then it really is quite startling and a tremendous bird. Shame that it is probably the last bird from the century old formerly self sustaining population. Not sure I would travel from the far end of the country, but if you are reasonably local then definitely take in the chance to see it.
   Anthony Dorman, 10/04/15 22:39Report inappropriate post Report 
#5
Jeff the Wolferton population is a tiny, isolated remnant. The Brownsea Island population has had at least one recent release so a definition of self-sustaining is dubious, and the Funzie birds must be incredibly inbred if there have been no recent releases there. There are somewhat larger numbers in the Brecks, where they are reputedly maintaining their numbers at one site at least. However I agree that C6 can't be that far off for Golden Pheasant. I think recent evidence is also pointing to the feral (Argyll) Snow Goose population not being self-sustaining either. This is the most recent report available online from the Rare Birds Breeding Panel, a more recent report is available to British Birds magazine subscribers. http://www.rbbp.org.uk/downloads/rbbp-nn-report-2006-07-08.pdf
   Jim Clarke, 11/04/15 05:40Report inappropriate post Report 
#6
@Laurie.....'Maybe it's me?.....' Not just you........!
   Neil Santy, 11/04/15 23:04Report inappropriate post Report 
#7
For me seeing Lady A wasn't really about 'listing' at all. I do find the question of whether the species was ever really self-sustaining or not a genuinely intriguing subject, but I have no bias as to whether it should be placed on the main body of my list or in an 'escapes' appendix. Evidence can be assessed and theories made. Certainly not quite the same as joining a crowd at a predesignated point, but the experience of spending days searching woodland in its former range along the...more more
   Jim Clarke, 12/04/15 14:38Report inappropriate post Report 
#8
Jim, thanks for your post,you have made the seemingly mundane ; joining a queue of folks peering for a lone ,rather forlorn, ornamental fowl for hours on end, into a wonderful birding experience! Good on Yer!!
   Adrian, 13/04/15 09:42Report inappropriate post Report 
#9
How come there's no mention in this article of the birds that were on North Wales/England border back in the 1990's, I had a glorious moment in time with a stunning male, very early one morning back in 1992. Have these died out too, and if so, when? Even if they're not 'genuine' a male is well worth seeing.
   Belinda Bempt, 20/04/15 16:02Report inappropriate post Report 
#10
The Halkyn birds have long since died out (or were culled to stop birders trespassing according to some), over 15 years ago. As you no doubt know they were kept as ornamental birds at the adjoining estate and were never feral, and this, I would imagine, is why the Birdguides article doesn't mention them.
   Jim Clarke, 20/04/15 21:49Report inappropriate post Report 

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