Nearly 60 million non-native gamebirds released in UK every year

The exact number of game birds that are released in the UK for shooting every year is not known (because, incredibly, the game bird shooting industry is virtually unregulated). Nobody even knows how many game bird shoots there are, because the people involved do not have to register anywhere, nor report on the number of birds released / shot each year. It’s been a great old wheeze for decades.

[Gamebird poults in poor feather condition just prior to release in to a woodland pen. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

All we’ve had to go on in recent years has been a conservative estimate of approx 50 million released birds every year, of which approx 43 million are pheasants and 9 million are red-legged partridge.

This ~50 million estimate came from the GWCT’s National Gamebag Census which until now hadn’t been updated since 2012, so a lot of us had guessed that the figure had probably increased substantially since then but we had no hard evidence to support this theory.

Until now.

Take a look at this recent paper from the GWCT, which analyses gamebag data up until 2016 (so it’s still not up to date but it’s more up to date than their 2012 estimate).

This table from the paper is fascinating:

So as of 2016 there are at least 47 million (yes, million) pheasants released in to the countryside for shooting every year, as well as at least 10 million (yes, million) red-legged partridge.

That’s nearly 60 million non-native birds, every year!

And look at that – at least 12,000 jays killed every year. Why?

140,000 woodcock, 85,000 common snipe and 870 golden plover killed every year. Why? Isn’t the shooting industry supposed to be ‘looking after’ waders? Why are they killing them in such huge numbers?

As many of you will know, Wild Justice is currently challenging DEFRA about its failure to assess the environmental impact of releasing so many millions of non-native game birds in to the countryside. The crowdfunder to support this legal action is just £2,059 short of its target, with 7 days to go. If you can help push it over the line, please visit here.

Thank you


19 thoughts on “Nearly 60 million non-native gamebirds released in UK every year”

  1. It needs regulation. We tried to protest against it in our area because the pheasants are a considerable road hazard, not to mention very destructive in people’s gardens. Nor were we happy about the gung-ho attitude of the men hunting them who were not always keeping to the designated land but trespassing onto people’s land, then pleading ignorance. The company who allows the shooting seems to think it’s okay for them to trespass if they didn’t mean to. However, we think it worrying that these so-called organised shoots don’t even know where they are allowed to walk. People have called the police, but they do very little. The attitude seems to be that we should just put up with it. The law also protects them from being culpable for damage caused by this yearly invasion of ‘game’ because as soon as they release the birds they conveniently become ‘wild.’

    1. Yeah I was pretty amazed and disgusted at that – found out when digging into info about the estate where the two eagles ‘disappeared’ on the same morning – it has some blackcock shooting! Beggars belief doesn’t it.

    2. Why? Shooting healthy,
      innocent birds to satisfy the perverted lust for blood is just weird. People who kill must have a personality inadequacy.

  2. ‘140,000 woodcock, 85,000 common snipe and 870 golden plover killed every year. Why?’

    Because, in general terms, if landowners weren’t allowed to shoot them (and other species) they would lose any interest whatsoever in protecting the habitats and ecosystems they own and control and nature would be worse off.

    I think that’s the justification.

    And anyone who challenges them is accused of engaging in class war.

  3. Given the fact that these latest figures are three years out of date, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they’ve now topped the 60m mark. Figures of this sort of scale no longer come as any surprise to us. However, apart from that horrifying figure of 12.000 Jays killed, what really caught my eye were those counts for Woodcock (140,000) and Common Snipe (85,000). Little wonder that Common Snipe numbers are threatened and how many of those Woodcock shot were winter visitors to these shores? It is high-time that the whole scenario was given a thorough examination, not just the issue of releasing non-native pheasants and partridges en masse.

    1. You can almost guarantee that these figures are conservative estimates, too., especially in regards to woodcock, snipe and golden plover. The GWCT are very adept at cherry picking data, as we’ve all seen.

  4. So many things in this table disgust me. Most obviously, the headline numbers of non-native gamebirds released, then the declining proportion of pheasants released that are actually shot (down from about 43% in 2004 to 32% in 2016), followed by the eye-watering numbers of woodcock and common snipe killed as highlighted by Dave Angel above.
    But the one that really got me was Teal. The RSPB and BTO give numbers of about 200,000 Teal overwintering in the UK – of which some 140,000 were apparently shot in 2016! If these numbers are even roughly correct, that is an appallingly high proportion, and it deserves to be shouted from the rooftops and communicated to all the powers that be, perhaps starting with Mark Avery’s mate Tony Juniper.

    1. Then you will hear about the NEGATIVITY shown to the guardians of our wild spaces. Politics corrupts , the law must be pushed to enforce , common law surely means the polluter pays. Maybe crowd funding and a charge against just one land owner might bring change

  5. Remember those corvid figures when you come across some tweed clad bullshitter (you all know the ones) on “social” media claiming that the RSPB “kill more than anyone else”.

  6. Hang on, if it’s so unregulated, to the point of not even knowing how many game shoots exist, wouldn’t the taxman like to know?

  7. I wonder why released mallard are not listed. I reckon that would add a few million more released birds. Reared mallards are probably also impacting wild mallards by weakening their genetic resilience through genetic introgression. As has been proven with farmed salmon, the escapees of which are destroying wild salmon stocks.

  8. It’s monstrous…in the 21st century, surely it’s time to recognise the awful brutality of this vile business and ban it. That so many Ravens are ‘removed’ breaks my heart. I have a little regular garden visiting Hen Pheasant, who happily takes food from my hand. All those poor poor creatures out there, terrified and causing havoc on the roads…not ok,this is not ok.

  9. If we take the EU (and UK) long established stock recording system as an example, there is zero precedent that quantifying the real number through a statutory body will reduce numbers at all.

    In terms of legislation too, I think that there are far worse environmental damages taking place due to the current livestock industry (sheep, beef, etc) which is unsustainable, often due to the EU CAP. In terms of saving the environment these are the easiest and bigger wins.

    I get that it is a political item and a pretty senseless slaughter. The way subsidies work is to incentivise people to do something they wouldn’t already do. So make the post Brexit subsidy system make the changes without legislation which without the subsidy system coming into line, just wouldn’t deliver maximum benefit. I say it regularly but the carrot not the stick in this case will get the results. And quickly.

  10. A cruel and barbaric ‘sport’ at the cost of vulnerable birds who need to be free in the wild ! 😡😡😡

  11. No regulation so no Taxation ;What’s not to like an income the taxman seems to ignore. While the public pay the regulatory bodies that listen to those that don’t pay

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