The UK gamebird-shooting industry is in crisis at the moment, with ever-increasing numbers of gamebirds being reared and released (estimated in the region of 50+ million pheasants & red-legged partridge each year) but supply is outstripping demand as game dealers struggle to sell the shot birds for human consumption. This has resulted in the widespread and illegal dumping of shot birds in the countryside (e.g. see here, here, here, here) which is causing serious damage to the reputation of the shooting industry.
Fearing enforced regulation, the shooting industry has come up with ‘the way forward’ and has established an organisation called the British Game Alliance, ‘the official marketing board for the UK game industry’, which, according to the Countryside Alliance, “aims to run a ‘British Game’ assurance scheme to ensure our game meets the highest standards“.
The British Game Alliance’s standards are quite high (see here for what is expected) and apparently compliance with these standards will be regulated and monitored by external auditors.
Sounds good, eh? In principle, yes, but our expectations were low in March 2018 when the Shooting Times revealed some of the individuals involved, including one name that made us laugh out loud given his links to estates with long histories of alleged (and sometimes proven) wildlife crime.
The British Game Alliance was launched with much fanfare and political support in May 2018 and we’ve been watching its website to find out which shoots (and sporting agents) have met the organisation’s ‘shoot standards’ to become listed as an ‘assured’ member. So far, the website hasn’t listed any of its assured members but promises that registered members will be ‘listed soon‘.
However, the British Game Alliance’s twitter feed (@BritishGame) has been more forthcoming. We were scrolling through this morning and were surprised to read this:
A police investigation took place at Wemmergill in 2015 after the discovery of two short-eared owls which had been shot and their corpses shoved inside a pothole (see here). There wasn’t a prosecution.
Another police investigation took place at Wemmergill in February this year following the sudden and explicable ‘disappearance’ of satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc (see here).
Even more surprising to read on the British Game Alliance’s twitter feed was this:
Edradynate Estate will be a familiar name to regular readers of this blog.
It is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction imposed by SNH following sufficient evidence (substantiated by Police Scotland) that raptor persecution has taken place but insufficient evidence to prosecute a named individual (see here).
Edradynate Estate has been at the centre of investigations for alleged wildlife crime for a very, very long time. It’s well worth reading an earlier summary we wrote (here) which includes some fascinating commentary about the estate by former RSPB Investigator Dave Dick, who claimed as far back as 2004 that the estate was “among the worst in Scotland for wildlife crime“, and commentary by former Police Wildlife Crime Officer Alan Stewart, who said in 2005, “Edraynate Estate has probably the worst record in Scotland for poisoning incidents, going back more than a decade“.
The details involve a disturbingly high number of poisoned birds and poisoned baits that were found over the years, as well as a number of dropped prosecution cases. The most recent dropped prosecution case came just last year, when the Crown Office refused to prosecute an Edradynate gamekeeper for alleged buzzard poisoning, despite Police Scotland urging otherwise (see here).
Despite at least 22 police investigations over several decades (according to Alan Stewart), nobody from Edradynate Estate has ever been successfully prosecuted for any of these alleged wildlife crimes.
And there lies the problem with the British Game Alliance’s shoot standards. If you look at shoot standard #19, ‘Where a shoot or its employees are successfully prosecuted for wildlife crimes, the shoot will be expelled from the BGA and their membership revoked‘.
Given the well-documented difficulties of securing a successful prosecution for wildlife crime, which is an issue even recognised by the Scottish Government, hence the recent introduction of General Licence restrictions, it’s quite clear that some undeserving estates will get the official seal of approval from the British Game Alliance, thus reducing any confidence the public may have had in this well-intentioned scheme.