Licensing scheme for release of pheasants & red-legged partridge in England following Wild Justice legal challenge

Press release from Wild Justice (30th October 2020)

Wild Justice secures an historic environmental legal victory

Just days away from facing a barrage of legal arguments in court (on 3 and 4 November) DEFRA has agreed to license the release of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges to control ecological damage to wildlife sites.  

Wild Justice mounted a legal challenge to make DEFRA review harmful gamebird impacts and introduce proper protection for wildlife sites and we have got DEFRA to address both.  There is more to do to make sure this regulation is made to stick but we have reached the limit of what the legal system can do at this stage. 

Wild Justice expects that a proper licensing system, compliant with the Habitats Directive, will require the following actions: 

  • Adding the Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which contains species which cause ecological, environmental or socio-economic harm (such as Signal Crayfish, Grey Squirrel, Ruddy Duck, Japanese Knotweed).  This means that those species can only be released under licence.  
  • Refusing to license gamebird releases on or within 1km of Natura 2000 sites unless stringent conditions on numbers of birds released are met.  
  • A ban on the use of lead ammunition on or within 1km of all Natura 2000 sites. 
  • Further research on impacts of predation by Pheasants on threatened reptiles such as Common Lizards and Adders. 
  • Further assessment of the influence of gamebird droppings on soil and water chemistry. 
  • Further monitoring of impacts of gamebird releases on densities of scavenging and predatory birds and mammals. 
  • Monitoring by Natural England of a large number of sites to ascertain the extent of damage caused by non-native gamebirds.  

Wild Justice said: 

We’re delighted! And we thank our brilliant lawyers at Leigh Day and Matrix Chambers and hundreds of people who contributed to our crowdfunder which allowed us to take this case.

This is an historic environmental victory by the smallest wildlife NGO in the UK against the massed ranks of government lawyers, DEFRA, Natural England and the shooting industry.

Thanks to our legal challenge, the shooting industry faces its largest dose of regulation since a ban on the use of lead ammunition in wildfowling in England in 1999.  Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges are now recognised by government as problem species where their numbers are too high and they cause damage to vegetation, soils, invertebrates, reptiles etc.

This move forward was only possible because of the legal protection given to the environment by the EU Habitats Directive (incidentally, largely drafted by Stanley Johnson, father of the Prime Minister). On 1 January, at the end of the Transition Period, the Habitats Directive and other EU legislation will still be relevant to UK environmental protection but each government in the UK could, in theory and in practice, start amending those laws.  Society should be vigilant that environmental protection is not whittled away.

There is more to do in making sure this regulation is made to stick but we have reached the limit of what the legal system can do at this stage. We called for review of gamebird impacts and proper protection of wildlife sites and we have got DEFRA to address both’.


  1. Wild Justice is a not-for-profit company set up by Dr Mark Avery, Chris Packham CBE and Dr Ruth Tingay
  2. Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges are non-native species which are bred in captivity and released in vast numbers (around 60 million a year) for recreational shooting. These birds are omnivores and their huge numbers can damage vegetation, fragile invertebrate communities and soils. Their droppings can affect soil and water chemistry. They may spread diseases to native wildlife. They provide abundant food for some predator and scavengers whose elevated population levels may then affect other species.
  3. Natura 2000 sites are those designated under the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive, and form some of the most important sites for nature conservation in the UK. 
  4. BASC described the Wild Justice legal challenge as ‘an attack on shooting’, ‘vexatious’ and ‘deeply flawed’ back in January and pledged to fight the legal action.


A press release from Wild Justice’s legal team at Leigh Day can be read here

For more information on this case and other Wild Justice legal challenges, both current and forthcoming, check out the Wild Justice blog (here) and subscribe to the free Wild Justice newsletter (here).

Wild Justice’s legal challenge on gamebird release discussed on Radio 4 this morning

Last year, campaign group Wild Justice launched a legal challenge against DEFRA over the unregulated annual release of 50+ million gamebirds (pheasant and re-legged partridge) in to the English countryside (see here).

Permission was granted to Wild Justice for a judicial review after a judge dismissed DEFRA’s claim earlier this year that the case was ‘premature and academic’ (see here) and the court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

Meanwhile, this legal challenge was discussed on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme this morning. You can listen here (the last 5 mins of the programme) and this clip is available for the next 29 days.

DEFRA was asked to comment and was quoted as saying a statement is imminent…..

For more information on this case and other Wild Justice legal challenges, both current and forthcoming, check out the Wild Justice blog (here) and subscribe to the free Wild Justice newsletter (here).

Is Sainsbury’s selling toxic gamebirds, without warning the public?

Supermarket Sainsbury’s has a new product on sale this autumn – a mixed game casserole, which apparently is made of 50% venison and 50% pheasant and red legged partridge:

[All photos by Ruth Tingay]

It’s being produced by a company called Holme Farm Venison, a company based in North Yorkshire that specialises in venison but also sells gamebirds.

According to the packaging, this product is ‘endorsed’ (ahem) by the British Game Alliance (BGA), whose ‘kitemark’ is stamped on the front:

Some of you may remember the British Game Alliance. It was created a couple of years ago as ‘the official marketing board for the UK game industry’ and claims on its website, ‘Through our ‘British Game’ assurance scheme we can ensure the provenance of our game meets rigorous and ethical standards‘.

Sounds good, right? Well, it does until you start digging in to the details – see here and here for earlier blogs about the BGA and some of its, let’s call them ‘interesting’, members.

It seems that accuracy and transparency is still an issue for the BGA – where it previously had listed some of its so-called ‘accredited’ members, it has now removed the list from the website:

However, all is not lost if you know where to look. Here’s an example of the BGA logo being advertised on the Guns on Pegs website. This screengrab is the entry for the Bransdale Estate in North Yorkshire, where a police investigation is on-going after the discovery earlier this year of five dead buzzards shoved under a rock, four of them confirmed shot (here) –

It’d be interesting to know whether Sainsbury’s has taken the BGA ‘assurance’ at face value or whether it has actually demanded transparency from its supplier, Holme Farm Venison, and asked from which estates, exactly, it has sourced the pheasants and partridge for this new game casserole.

According to a press release from the BGA last week (see here), the BGA ‘stamp of assurance gives consumers confidence in the traceability, sustainability and quality of the game they eat‘. Really? Well then Sainsbury’s will have no trouble telling its customers all about the exact provenance of these gamebirds.

Which is just as well, because Holme Farm Venison seems a little bit confused about where they’ve come from. Its website first says “all its game products are supplied from our local gamekeeper” (ah, isn’t that all homely and lovely):

But when you actually look at the details of its gamebird products (pheasants and red legged partridge) it says they are supplied by a ‘fully licensed game supplier’:

Who’s that, then? And can they tell us the names of the estates from where these gamebirds have been shot? According to the BGA press release ‘an estimated half a million birds will find their way in to this product‘ – that’s one very busy gamekeeper! The packaging says the birds have been sourced from ‘Traditional UK Estates’ – who’s that?

And talking of shot……lead shot….toxic lead shot…..have these pheasants and partridge been shot with toxic lead ammunition? And if so, how is Sainsbury’s warning its customers that there is no safe level of lead consumption and that consuming lead is especially harmful to children and pregnant women?

Here’s what it says on the packaging:

Our game is wild, and whilst every effort is made to remove shot from the meat, please be aware, some may remain“.

That’s quite a statement. It doesn’t mention that those ‘wild’ gamebirds have probably been bred, pumped with antibiotics and released in to the British countryside to be shot with toxic lead ammunition. It doesn’t even mention lead! Perhaps they haven’t been shot with toxic lead ammunition after all?

Shall we ask Sainsbury’s? There’s a slogan on Sainsbury’s website that says, ‘We want to be the UK’s most trusted retailer’. Well then there’ll be no problem answering questions about the provenance of these gamebirds and whether they contain toxic lead ammunition, will there?

Emails to:

UPDATE 3 November 2020: Sainsbury’s not alerting customers to health risk of eating toxic gamebirds (here)

UPDATE 23 November 2020: Sainsbury’s refuses to address concerns about selling potentially toxic gamebirds (here)

Campaigners launch spoof Dragons’ Den film ridiculing grouse shooting industry

Press release from the Revive Coalition for grouse moor reform (28 October 2020)

Campaigners launch spoof Dragons’ Den film ridiculing grouse shooting industry

#GovernmentsDen video shown to MSPs in exclusive preview

MSPs have been given an exclusive preview of a spoof Dragons’ Den film, highlighting the weakness of the arguments in favour of managed grouse moors in Scotland.

Government’s Den imagines a world where grouse shooting doesn’t exist and puts two lobbyists in front of the dragons, arguing for up to a fifth of Scotland to be managed for the sport. The film sees the lobbyists put forward their case for ownership of a huge part of Scotland in return for a 0.02% contribution to the economy, with only ‘a few Government subsidies’ required. They also argue that they will use predator control to systematically wipe out all species that pose a threat to grouse to enable them to cultivate tens of thousands of game birds to be shot for entertainment.

The campaigning film is the brainchild of Revive, the campaign for grouse moor reform. It’s Campaign Manager, Max Wiszniewski said: “The video is intended to be taken tongue in cheek, but behind the humour is a very serious issue. Driven grouse shooting is an intensively managed bloodsport which depends on turning vast swathes of Scotland into barren monocultures. The circle of destruction which surrounds grouse moor causes untold suffering to many thousands of animals, depletes our peat reserves and causes environmental damage on an industrial scale.

The Revive coalition has alternative visions for our moors to address the environmental crisis in our countryside caused by intensively managed grouse moors and we hope this video will raise awareness of these issues and show just how ridiculous the current situation is.”

To find out if the lobbyists win over the dragons with their arguments watch the video below.


Last push for Langholm Moor Community Buyout

The Oct 31st deadline is looming for the Langholm Moor Community Buyout, an initiative aiming to buy land from Buccleuch Estates and transform it from an old grouse moor in to something of benefit for the whole community.

At the moment it looks like there may be enough funds to support Plan B, which is to buy part of the land to help the region’s environmental, economic and social development.

The crowdfunder is just under £7K short of its target – please visit here if you can help.

For previous blogs on the Langholm buyout please see hereherehereherehere here here here here and here

For more detailed information about the proposed community buyout, please watch this video:

Peregrine fatally poisoned in Barnsley: South Yorkshire Police appeal for information

Press release from South Yorkshire Police (26 October 2020)

Information sought following the poisoning of a protected bird

Officers investigating reports of a bird of prey being deliberately poisoned are appealing for your help to find those responsible.

On Saturday 4 July officers found a juvenile peregrine falcon in ill health in the Fish Dam Lane area of Barnsley, the bird sadly died a short time later.

[The poisoned peregrine, photo via South Yorkshire Police]

Initial assessment of the bird indicated that it could have been poisoned. Following a forensic examination by the Wildlife Investigation Scheme it has now been confirmed that the bird had been poisoned with Bendiocarb, a highly toxic substance.

Peregrine falcons are protected under Sec1 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Investigating Officer PC Fran Robbs De La Hoyde said: “It is believed the poisoned peregrine falcon ingested bait laced with the poison which was deliberately set out to target the bird.

There is nothing to suggest that this bait was laid in open land.

This was a deliberate act that caused the death of a beautiful and protected bird. I am saddened by this and I am asking for your help to bring those responsible to justice.”

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “It’s always a privilege to catch a glimpse of a peregrine. The fastest birds in the world, they are highly adaptable creatures and often make their homes in urban areas these days.

Bendiocarb is one of the most commonly-abused substances for killing birds of prey and we have sadly seen it used for this purpose on many occasions. It is illegal to kill these birds, and we urge anyone with information to come forward.”

Poisons commonly used to commit a crime like this are incredibly toxic to humans and pets. Should any person locate any dead or injured birds they are strongly advised not to touch them or let pets come into contact with them.

If you have any information that can help officers please call 101 and quote crime reference number 14/104692/20.

Alternatively, you can stay completely anonymous by contacting the independent charity Crimestoppers via their website or by calling their UK Contact Centre on 0800 555 111.

SYP are committed to the investigation of serious wildlife offences, including the poisoning of birds of prey.


UPDATE 17 November 2020: Police raid property in poisoned peregrine investigation (here)

‘Government’s Den’: preview trailer for a new film from the Revive Coalition for grouse moor reform

The Revive Coalition for grouse moor reform in Scotland has released a trailer for a forthcoming new film, called ‘Government’s Den’.

A parody of the Dragon’s Den format, this short film imagines a world in which driven grouse shooting doesn’t exist – where the grouse shooting industry must pitch its case for starting driven grouse shooting – to the Scottish Government.

Would the Government be in, or would it be out?

The film will be released at 2pm on Wednesday 28th October 2020 on the Revive Coalition’s YouTube channel here.

The Revive Coalition comprises a number of organisations working for grouse moor reform in Scotland. Members of the coalition are OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports, Common Weal, Friends of the Earth (Scotland) and Raptor Persecution UK. Find out more about the coalition’s work on its website (here).

Two peregrines fatally poisoned in North Yorkshire: police appeal for information

Press release from North Yorkshire Police (21st October 2020)

Police appeal for information after peregrine falcons found dead near Tadcaster

Analysis finds carcasses containing pesticides

North Yorkshire Police is appealing for information following investigations into the death of two peregrine falcons found at a quarry near Stutton, Tadcaster.

[Photos by Guy Shorrock]

A member of the public who had been observing the mating pair of birds, found a male bird dead on a cliff ledge and following investigation by the RSPB and North Yorkshire Police to recover the carcass, a deceased female peregrine falcon was located in the bottom of the quarry.

Both birds were sent away for testing which confirmed high levels of Bendiocarb in their systems and this was found to be the cause of death. The male bird was found next to a pigeon carcass which it is believed may have been used as bait.

Bendiocarb is licensed for use as a pesticide in England but is highly toxic and should never be released into the environment where wildlife, such as birds of prey, could be exposed to it. The pesticide has been found used to kill birds of prey in North Yorkshire previously and as such, police believe this was a deliberate act of poisoning.

North Yorkshire Police Inspector Matt Hagen said:

Poisoning a bird of prey is a crime and it is saddening each time we have another incident reported to us. Every investigation is thoroughly carried out with all lines of enquiry followed to try and find those responsible, but we cannot do this without the public’s help, please be our eyes and ears and report this type of incident to the police.

I’m urging anyone who has any information about bird of prey persecution to get in touch with the police, someone out there knows who is committing these crimes and we need that information to ensure they are stopped.”

Despite extensive investigations, police have yet to identify those responsible for misusing this toxic substance. Anyone with information about this incident should contact North Yorkshire Police quoting reference 12200057190.

If you wish to remain anonymous, you can pass information to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


These peregrines were found poisoned six months ago in April 2020. There is no explanation given for the delay in publicising this crime but it is likely to do with long delays at the toxicology lab caused by the Coronavirus lockdown. It’s understood there is still a backlog of samples waiting to be analysed.

“We don’t have five years to get rid of lead [ammunition]”, says Waitrose spokesperson

Last year Waitrose became the first (and only?) supermarket to ban the sale of gamebirds that have been shot with toxic lead ammunition (see here).

It was a bold move but one that was welcomed across the conservation sector.

Meanwhile, after years of consistently defending the use of toxic lead ammunition (e.g. here’s a classic example from one of the industry’s ‘figureheads’ (ahem) claiming that concerns were “nonsense”), in February this year a suite of shooting organisations announced that they wanted to promote a voluntary ban on the use of toxic lead ammunition and see an end to its use within five years. They had clearly seen the writing on the wall and decided to jump before they were pushed, although according to a statement from the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust (WWT), a group that’s been at the forefront of campaigning against lead ammunition for a very long time,

While the transition to lead-free ammunition is a positive move forward, conservationists stress that previous voluntary bans have been unsuccessful and without policy change at government level, there will still be risks to human health, wildlife and the market for game birds. A full restriction will contribute to the further removal of poisonous lead from our environment‘.

And not every shooting organisation was in support of even a voluntary ban. Those doyens of scientific research, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, refused to sign up with the other shooting organisations because, they claimed, the impacts of lead “must be better studied” (see here). The irony of that statement wasn’t lost on any of us.

And just to confuse matters further, just last month the UK shooting industry as a whole stated it was to fight a new forthcoming EU regulation restricting the use of toxic lead ammunition on wetlands (see here).

It’s with some interest then that  John Gregson, senior manager of agri-food communications at Waitrose, gave a very strong presentation at the GWCT’s recent Game 2020 Conference on the company’s stance on lead shot.

This video is well worth watching. Aside from positioning himself as a former editor of the Shooting Times, and switching between talking about himself as a member of the shooting industry and as a Waitrose spokesperson, presumably to allay any fears amongst his audience that he might be perceived/smeared/dismissed as being ‘anti-shooting’, Gregson gives a compelling argument about why the shooting industry MUST drop the use of toxic lead ammunition ASAP – he argues that “we don’t have five years to get rid of lead“.

It was also good to hear him speak well of several scientists (namely Drs Debbie Pain and Rhys Green) who have worked for decades to demonstrate the no-brainer notion that toxic lead ammunition has to go.

Will the shooting industry listen?

Here’s the 25 minute video:

New report reviews illegal persecution & other threats to raptors in Ireland, 2007-2019

A new report has been published today reviewing confirmed incidents of illegal persecution and other threats to raptors in Ireland between 2007-2019.

The report is the cumulative work of the RAPTOR protocol (Recording and Addressing Persecution and Threats to Our Raptors) which was a collaborative approach between the National Parks & Wildlife Service, Regional Veterinary Laboratories and the State Laboratory to ‘systematically determine the extent to which anthropogenic non-habitat related impacts (for example poisoning, persecution, disturbance, collisions, etc.) are threats to Ireland’s native birds of prey‘.

The report contains the usual illegal poisoning, shooting and trapping incidents that won’t come as a shock to anyone familiar with this blog, although the range of poisons detected is interesting and the geographic spread of illegal persecution incidents is disturbing.

What’s unusual about this report is that it includes reports of other ‘threats’ to birds of prey such as collisions (wind turbines, vehicles, fences, powerline) and secondary poisonings, which might be useful for planning purposes but needs to be borne in mind if trying to draw quick conclusions from the headline data.

A very useful aspect of this report is the idea of providing individual species accounts, giving an overview of the specific threats and a map detailing the spread of incidents for that particular species.

This report is a comprehensive data resource, well worth a look. You can download it here: