Unregulated release of millions of gamebirds continues to draw attention

The unregulated annual release of millions of non-native gamebirds in to the UK countryside (~47 million pheasants + ~10 million red-legged partridge) continues to draw attention, much to the dismay of some in the commercial shooting industry who probably wish the scrutiny would all disappear so they could get on with doing what the hell they like, as they have done for decades.

There’s been a flurry of media coverage recently, and there’ll probably be a lot more in the coming weeks as Wild Justice’s legal challenge goes for judicial review at the High Court in early November.

That legal challenge featured in The Guardian the other day:

There’s an especially interesting couple of lines in that Guardian article, as follows:

Christopher Graffius, BASC’s communications director, said the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust had guidelines on how many birds could be safely released and estates that broke the rules had been sanctioned‘.

Yes, there are voluntary guidelines, but as such they are largely unenforceable and a guideline is very different to a ‘rule’. It would have been useful if Christopher had elaborated on how many estates had ‘broken the rules’, which ‘rules’ did they ‘break’, how many estates were subsequently sanctioned, what was the sanction and who imposed it? These details are important if BASC’s claim of the industry’s effective self-regulation is to be taken seriously.

Meanwhile, in Scotland there was a story last week about red-legged partridge being driven by the crateload through the Cairngorms National Park. This blog written by Nick Kempe of ParkswatchScotland is as thought-provoking as ever:

As Nick pointed out in his blog, he didn’t know the final destination for those non-native red-legged partridge but there are no rules about releasing them inside the Cairngorms National Park, or in any other so-called National Park in the UK for that matter. It really is quite astonishing when you consider the hoops that, quite rightly to a point, have to be jumped to reintroduce a native species anywhere in the UK.

It would be interesting to know where those red-legged partridge were heading. Presumably not to be released to replenish a shoot because that would be a breach of one of the ‘five golden rules’ of the Code of Good Shooting Practice, and we all know how law-abiding the shooting industry is, right?

Then yesterday there was another interesting article in The Guardian where it was claimed that pheasants ‘could wipe out Adders in Britain within 12 years’. You can read that article here.

October 1st marked the opening of the pheasant-shooting season in the UK and seeing as though gamebird shooting is exempt from the Covid restrictions that the majority of us are having to live with, there’ll be pheasants being shot from the skies as this is typed.

Keep an eye out for piles of dumped shot gamebirds along hedgerows, roads, laybys, local woodland, fields etc. It happens every year and is a widespread problem; the photographs exposing the reality of unregulated gamebird shooting in the UK. E.g. see previous reports of shot dumped birds in Cheshire, Scottish borders (here), Norfolk (here), Perthshire (here), Berkshire (here), North York Moors National Park (here) and some more in North Yorkshire (here) and even more in North Yorkshire (here), Co. Derry (here), West Yorkshire (here), and again in West Yorkshire (here), N Wales (here), mid-Wales (here), Leicestershire (here) and Lincolnshire (here).

25 thoughts on “Unregulated release of millions of gamebirds continues to draw attention”

  1. I was bird watching in the Findhorn Valley in July. There were many dozens of young (newly released?) Red Legged Partidges running up and down the road between Tomatin and the farms at the Tomatin end of the valley.

  2. The roads will soon be littered with bodies, I counted 15 on a 2 mile stretch of the A507 last year. I reported in local Press, but tomorrow’s fish and chip paper…..
    Keep on keeping on RPUK, if anyone will force this shitty industry to reform it will be you….

  3. It’s good to see so much coverage in the press but it’s a pity that the first Guardian article used the term ‘activist’ in its headline. This term often has negative connotations and is used to dismiss those with genuine, well-founded concerns. Significantly, perhaps, in my experience, it’s much more rarely used in respect of those who support the status quo or enjoy backing from the rich and powerful despite their being just as much ‘activists’ as those that oppose them.

  4. I hate this time of year…where I live, the road I drive along to my nearest town is often littered with the bodies of the poor creatures. These birds are fed right next to a busy (ish) road so quickly learn to congregate there in the early mornings and are daily run over by speeding motorists. Appalling.

  5. These non native birds cause a multitude of problems, for example, affecting domestic poultry during avian disease outbreaks, causing damage to vehicles when they fly into windscreens or headlights, damage to silage bales (which are wrapped in plastic to ensure fermentation of the grass), dominance at domestic bird feeding areas, agricultural crop damage…feel free to add to this list.

    Does the prevalence of these non native birds affect the natural food chain? Whilst we see very few raptors now, there would appear to be greater numbers of crows. Could anyone help verify this observation, please?

    1. Oh yes. I agree about vehicle damage.
      Something which happened to me and my late husband was, on returning from a wedding, a pheasant shot up from the side of the road, straight into the front valance of my husband’s brand new Ford (we’d had it a day) , before traveling up the car’s bonnet, the windscreen and in through the sunroof! Blood and guts everywhere and a bill for around a thousand!
      In some ways its better it happened whist going home. Would have looked bad in the wedding pictures!

  6. Why is it illegal to release exotic species into our wild environment, lynx and wolves for example, but OK to do this for birds to shoot at? Unbelievable!

    1. Technically, Lynx and wolves are native but hunted to extinction in the UK, as was the beaver, and, further back, the brown bear.

    2. It arises from a derogation in the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 I believe which was brought forward by shooting interests.

      1. And it seems this also applies to the continued use of extremely invasive non native plants such as snowberry and cherry laurel as cover for game. While thousands of conservation volunteers and million of pounds are spent getting rid off invasive plants, shooting estates continue to plant out more of them. Bloody scandalous.

        1. Snowberry? As it happens, I was working on removing a snowberry patch yesterday. What a nightmare! What a stupid choice of plant to let loose in our countryside

  7. We have a visiting pheasant at our feeding station in the garden…named Phinn (of course), has a head injury and a bit of a limp but has lasted several years thus far. Bless him, he’s there every morning. Should of course be in a jungle somewhere !

  8. I am trying to raise the issues against blood sports on National Trust Property.

    The NT are starting a campaign, “Nature Needs You”.

    For years I have complained about blood sports on NT land but it continues. I have posted the following on their facebook page.

    The National Trust is asking us all to Protect Nature but they allow blood sports to continue on our land.
    All of these Blood Sports are barbaric, outdated and damaging to species of all kinds. They are often involved in criminal activity, eg. Raptor Persecution, illegally hunting foxes and deer with dogs (although those that do it either deny or accept it as accidental). They call it Trail Hunting.
    Moorland and lowland game bird shooting is supported only by removing our natural predators even though many are protected by law. These predator removal activities are carefully hidden from the public, yet it goes on in huge numbers.
    Add to this the environmental damage caused by introducing alien birds in numbers exceeding 50 million to be shot. The continued use of lead shot, burning moorland and its damage to land, flora and fauna.
    The NT should no longer support these archaic, outdated killing games, cruelty and really show their support for nature.

    Killing for fun should no longer be part of the National Trust.

    Will they show some compassion or will it be business as usual?


    1. “These birds have been hand reared so they can’t really be called wild can they?”

      The law is especially arranged to suit shooting estates. When they are intensively bred, gamebirds are legally defined as ‘livestock’. This permits the breeders to shoot any predators- because they are protecting livestock – and to prosecute anyone interfering with them, because they are ‘owned’.

      But once they are released into the countryside to cause havoc, they most certainly must not be ‘livestock’ any more, because that would render the shooting estates legally liable for all the damage they cause (road traffic accidents, damaging your gardens and the like). So the law changes, and gamebirds legally become ‘wild’.

      But at the end of the shooting season, gamebirds can be rounded up for next years breeding, so the law changes again and they legally become ‘livestock’ again.

      It’s all to appease The Queen and her crowd. Geddit? Remember that next time you are expected to stand, and ‘take the knee’ for wildlife.

      1. When game birds are livestock, the farmer can claim subsidy and when they round up the leftovers they can gain more subsidy.
        Some years ago PM Cameron increased hill farm subsidies by 50% but the main claimants were grouse moor owners. Another give away to the rich.
        With subsidies and shooting charges (grouse shooting costs about £1000 per person per day), they are on good earners!!!!!

        We pay for their fun.


      2. Keith, you are absolutely right about the legal status of reared pheasants. The Estates releasing the birds have it all their own way. And what really takes the biscuit is when some of the released birds wander away onto a neighbours land (usually because the Estate has not been putting enough feed out to keep them in one place) – say onto farm that has some hobbyist type pals shooting with the farmers consent- those little guys are expected to not shoot any of the “Estate’s birds”. And keepers can get very hot under the collar about this.

  9. The Guardian article is interesting, and if the prediction is correct, then the release of so many pheasants in the UK is having a devastating effect on so much of our natural wildlife, despite the claims from the shooting industry that this isn’t the case.

    But it shouldn’t take a genius to work out that releasing millions of non native pheasants into the countryside each year will cause many problems.
    These birds will be in direct competition with many native species for the limited food sources available.
    Many of these native species simply won’t be able to compete with such a large bird released in such overwhelming numbers.
    Unfortunately common sense alone won’t be sufficient to convince politicians that these gamebirds will be contributing to the decline in so much of British native wildlife. An effect probably similar to the effect Grey squirrels have had on native Red squirrels.

    Perhaps the annual gamebird release in the UK should be another topic on the agenda of the UN Extinction Crisis?
    With the emphasis on those who want to release the birds to provide the evidence that the release has no detrimental effect -otherwise the release of non native species should be banned in order to assist with the recovery of native species.

    But I can already hear the cries of the shooting lobby claiming there is no evidence to support the view that releasing millions of game birds has a detrimental effect on native wildlife. Wildlife which is already under pressure due to massive habitat loss.
    Perhaps they should consider the effect is very similar to having a cough and then entering a smoky room and wondering why you start to choke and can no longer breathe!!

    A remedy could be as simple as requiring all reared game birds to be tagged whilst in the pens (its a requirement for cattle and sheep) – so that the birds could be traced back to owner who bought and released them- with liability for any any damage caused as a result of motor collision or penalties for allowing the birds to enter environmentally sensitive areas such as SSI’s.

    Will this happen??..Of course it won’t.

    So the question has to be asked-
    Are UK politicians serious about protecting our wildlife?
    Will the speeches about Wildlife Extinction be just empty words, or will there be action to back up these words?

    Or as happens time and time again will politicians simply capitulate to the business interests of the powerful land owning classes??

    I think we already know the answer?

    1. As usual – some interesting thoughts! I like the idea of identifying the birds – perhaps leg rings might be the way to go.

      Given that poaching is a high priority wildlife crime, you’d think the shooting lobby might support the idea since it would help identify who a particular bird belonged to.

      1. Aside from the conservation issues, and just to add further justification for the tagging of reared game birds.

        Studies have indicated that approximately 6% of released pheasants are killed on the roads (This equates to between 2 to 3 million birds each year)

        Based on information from claims for damage, the cost of collisions involving animals is about £20 million per year.

        Research by the motor insurance industry has indicated that over half of UK drivers had a collision or a near miss with an animal on UK roads.
        Of those incidents 20% involved a large game bird, such as a pheasant.

        This is considerably higher than collisions involving sheep (10.3%), cattle (6.6%) which are legally required to be tagged so that the owner can be traced, and then no doubt the driver can attempt to pursue a claim for damages from the farmer. (The two routes normally taken are either through the tort of negligence, or under the Animals Act 1971)

        When one considers the damage colliding with a large bird like a pheasant actually causes, or the consequences of trying to avoid a collision, it seems completely absurd that gamebirds reared in captivity, and then released are not classified as livestock, and therefore tagged in order to make the owner identifiable and thus liable for any damage caused.

        There could be a strong argument that game birds initially reared in pens and which are then released into the countryside, are in fact very similar to other livestock such as cattle or sheep which are initially raised in fields close to a farm and then released onto open moorland or common land for summer grazing.
        Both the game birds and livestock are free to roam at will.
        Both can be present on an unfenced road and pose a risk to drivers of vehicles.
        In fact pheasants are perhaps a greater risk, as they a present over greater swathes of the countryside, their freedom is not curtailed by road furniture such as cattle grids, drivers are not warned of their presence by road signs and their nature is often to hide in roadside vegetation, and then when alarmed by an approaching vehicle fly out, often requiring a driver to take evasive action.

        It should also be noted that, if a land owner has an exclusive right to hunt, take and kill wild animals, on his/her own land, he/she is regarded as being the qualified owner of such animals while they remain on his/her land. Whilst this isn’t an absolute right of ownership, the law has in fact recognised the rights of landowners and hence there is legislation like the Poaching Acts to protect a landowners interest in gamebirds.

        So it seems absurd that the law recognises a landowners right to assume some form of ownership of gamebirds, and prevent others from taking those birds, yet fails to recognise the responsibility which should come with that ownership

        It really should not be a big step to require reared gamebirds to be tagged, and then the person who buys and releases those birds becomes an “owner” with all the legal responsibilities this entails, which should include liability insurance for any damage caused.

        If such steps were enacted in law, it might actually increase the costs associated with releasing gamebirds into the countryside and make those who want to engage in such activity question whether the economics were worthwhile. If the intention was merely to shoot a flying target and not actually eat what was killed (which the number of dumped pheasant carcasses suggest is often the case), then hopefully some would switch to clay pigeon shooting and save millions of birds and native wildlife from a miserable existence.

        And for those wishing to avoid responsibility and not tag birds. Then the Countryside and Wildlife Act could be amended so that untagged gamebirds were not excluded from this legislation, and would thus be afforded the same protection as any other wild bird.

        1. John – I completely agree. I’ve thought that for a long time too!

          Unfortunately the shooting industry knows how to play the game – no pun intended! It infuriates me that game animals living in the wild are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and animals living in the wild or animals used for ‘sporting’ activities are specifically excluded from the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007.

          As you say, sheep, in particular, are often ‘cared for’ in similar conditions as the pheasants. They are free ranging, sometimes are offered stone wall shelters and occasional additional feed or medical treatment. It seems to me to be very similar to the level of ‘care’ of many farmed animals and livestock yet game are specifically excluded from legal protection. It’s cruel!

          And your point about shooting rights demonstrates how the law is open to manipulation. They can accrue financial gain from shooting rights but don’t have to face the financial penalties of those rights. It’s wrong and unfair.

          Jonathan Thompson in Lawyer Monthly, April 2018, provides an interesting analysis of the meaning of “game” (English law) in his assessment of sporting rights in relation to real estate (Sporting Rights and Sporting Wrongs. https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2018/04/sporting-rights-and-sporting-wrongs/.)

          “What is game? Well, there is no one definition and it can – to a certain extent – be what you want it to be. However, the most common definition is contained within the Game Act 1831. Various acts such as the Night Poaching Act 1828, the Poaching Prevention Act 1862, the Game Laws (Amendment) Act 1960 and the Ground Game Act 1880 have different definitions. The case of Jeffries v Evans (1865) held that game was “generally understood as including anything that is usually hunted for, shot for and sported after… excluding small birds and vermin which are beneath the notice of a sportsman”. Further, there are reared and wild game birds. The case Pole v Peake (1998) found that unless otherwise stated, game includes reared birds, the rationale being they become free to roam once the release pen fences are taken down.” So – they exclude certain game when it assists them and include it when it assists them!

          BTW – I just came across this piece of research by the GWCT where the birds were marked (with tags I think) for identification purposes – so your suggestion is clearly possible.

          1. Look at those dates! 1828, 1831,1880, 1865 and 1960!

            Long, long overdue a *radical* overhaul of these shooting laws. Long, long overdue an end to this financially selective, environmentally destructive pastime.

  10. Another consequence of these massive releases is the effect they have on the rat population. Feed for the released pheasants is scattered around by special trailers towed by quad bikes and the like. The consequential surge in the rat population is met with the deployment of tons of rodenticide. Rats killed by this means then find their way into the food chain of scavenging species such as Red Kites. The consequences of shooting as a pastime are never-ending. Time it was all changed.

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