BBC accused of unfairly blaming pheasants for adder decline in latest impartiality row

An adder - John Cancalosi/Photolibrary RM
An adder - John Cancalosi/Photolibrary RM

The BBC has been accused of lacking impartiality in its coverage of the decline of adders in the UK by leading countryside campaigners.

The Countryside Alliance has launched two official complaints over the corporation’s interviews of author Nicholas Milton, who argued adders will be “extinct across most of Britain in the next 15 to 20 years”.

Mr Milton said that one of the major factors behind the rapid decline is “the release of 60 million pheasants”, which target the reptiles.

The Countryside Alliance says there is no scientific research or evidence to support the claim and that it should have been invited to give its point of view.

The two complaints relate to Mr Milton’s appearance on Radio 4’s Today programme and on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show, both on March 2.

A colourful male, ring-necked pheasant - Anne Coatesy/iStockphoto
A colourful male, ring-necked pheasant - Anne Coatesy/iStockphoto

During the interviews, Mr Milton referenced a study, published in 2019, looking at the decline of adders in the UK.

The Countryside Alliance claims that while Mr Milton used this study to support his argument, it did not suggest that the reason for the decline of adders was a result of the release of the pheasants.

Mr Milton said: “There’s 60 million pheasants, 60 million pheasants are released into the countryside each year that will kill adders, that might surprise people but it’s true.”

In the Jeremy Vine interview, he explained: “The pheasant is a non-native bird, it comes from China and Asia and [they] are therefore very used to dealing with snakes.

“What the pheasant will do is peck out the eyes, the adder will try to defend itself, but the bite doesn’t work. It has a shield of feathers and then other pheasants will join in.”

The study in question, published in the Herpetological Journal, says: “Predation by pheasants may severely reduce reptile populations, particularly where pheasant densities are high, although much of the evidence on the impacts of pheasant predation remains anecdotal due to a lack of quantitative studies of sufficient size.”

Mr Milton said the study found that adders are now restricted to just 260 sites in the whole of the country and 90 per cent of those have 10 or less snakes on them.

Tim Bonner
Tim Bonner

Tim Bonner, the Countryside Alliance’s chief executive, claimed there was “no evidence at all” that pheasants were having an impact on adder populations in the UK.

He added: “For the BBC to invite someone on and for that person to express these views in very strong terms, and for that not to be challenged in any way, or to provide an alternative voice is something we are very concerned about.

“The Alliance’s job is to stand up for rural communities and the interest of people in the countryside.

“We see a “metropolitan mindset” consistently. We think it is important BBC news in particular thinks carefully about the claims that are made in relation to rural activities and activities like shooting in particular and ensures people aren’t able to make carte blanche statements without being challenged. “

James Aris, the Alliance’s Shooting Campaign Manager, said: “ Both incidents demonstrated a clear breach of BBC guidelines. The interviews lacked balance and any attempt to counter the arguments being made. This is clearly unacceptable and BBC audiences deserve better”.

A BBC spokesman said: “We take complaints about our output seriously and have a thorough and robust process in place to ensure they are fully considered.”

Mr Milton has been approached for comment.