Back in 2019 when DEFRA was forced into a review of the ecological impacts of releasing millions of non-native gamebirds on or near protected sites following a legal challenge by campaign group Wild Justice, the gamebird-shooting industry’s self-appointed ‘official marketing board’, the British Game Alliance (BGA), wrote to DEFRA minister Lord Gardiner and offered up industry inspectors to undertake the work, according to an article by Tess Colley published yesterday by the Ends Report.
It’s a bit like offering to mark your own homework. Sure, the industry inspectors used by the British Game Alliance are bona fide independent auditors, but the ‘shoot standards’ which they use to assess shoots as part of their auditing scheme have been ‘developed in-house’ by the British Game Alliance and the assessors have been ‘trained by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT)’!
The strength of this auditing has been called in to question a number of times as some estates, apparently ‘assured’ under this scheme by the BGA, either have been, or currently are, under investigation by the police for alleged wildlife crime (e.g. see here, here, here, here) and at least one apparent member is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction imposed by NatureScot on the basis of ‘clear evidence’ of ongoing wildlife crime, according to Police Scotland. What’s particularly fascinating is that once questions were being asked about the suitability of some of these estates to be described as ‘BGA-assured’, the BGA removed its list of member shoots from its website!
The BGA’s stance on credibility and traceability was also recently questioned when Wild Justice discovered that a so-called ‘healthy’ game meat product being sold by Sainsbury’s, and ‘endorsed’ by the BGA, was found to contain levels of toxic lead more than 200 times the legal limit for lead in other meat products and without any health warning for consumers (see here).
The British Game Alliance is one of the nine organisations involved in the recently-launched game-shooting coalition ‘Aim to Sustain’, which I have described as a ‘propaganda supergroup’ which should more aptly be called ‘Aim to Hide the Stains’ (see here).
So yes, the Ends Report is quite right to query the proposal from the BGA that DEFRA use the same inspectors to audit the ecological impact of releasing millions of non-native gamebirds in to the countryside as those used by the game-shooting industry itself in an effort to be seen to be self-regulating.
Did DEFRA agree to this proposal?
Well here’s the article for those who don’t subscribe to the Ends Report:
The British Game Alliance (BGA) offered to carry out environmental inspections for DEFRA during a review of gamebird release management, a freedom of information release has revealed.
While names are redacted, the FOI release also shows that a senior policy advisor at DEFRA responded to the BGA’s letter taking it up on the suggestion of having a meeting to discuss the proposal.
In September 2019, the BGA wrote to Lord Gardiner – then parliamentary under-secretary for the department – to highlight a “new opportunity” for it to make use of the gamebird industry body’s inspectors to monitor the sector’s environmental impact and compliance.
The offer was made during a review period when the government was looking into how releases of common pheasant and red-legged partridge are managed on or near European protected sites.
DEFRA had been pushed into the review following legal action from campaign group Wild Justice, over the government’s alleged failure to assess the ecological impacts of releasing the gamebirds.
“As DEFRA modernises its policy framework for the shooting sector it faces the perennial problem of finding reliable evidence while navigating vociferous campaigners and entrenched landowners”, reads the letter, before going on to say that the public benefit of such policy work is “undermined by lack of enforcement across millions of acres of remote countryside”.
It continues: “This letter is to alert you to the new opportunity provided by the hundreds of annual inspections now being carried out by Lloyds Register on behalf of the BGA.
“Its inspectors started work last year and have been trained to monitor the 23 land and animal welfare standards required by the BGA. These standards are closely aligned to DEFRA policy.”
The BGA is an industry body which, according to its own website, is focused “exclusively” on the promotion of British game.
The BGA notes in its letter how “profoundly grateful” it is to the government for its help in finding new markets for British game, and says the department’s “thoughtfulness to us deserves reciprocation”.
Neither DEFRA nor the BGA were able to confirm to ENDS at the time of publication if the proposed meeting took place, or if the proposal had been developed.
The government is currently facing fresh legal action on the issue of gamebird releases from Wild Justice, a campaign group formed by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery.
Commenting on the BGA letter, Mark Avery said: “This isn’t so much poachers turned gamekeepers, it’s gamekeepers staying as gamekeepers”. He added that it looked like an industry that should be being regulated simply offering to regulate itself.
The group had previously claimed an “historic environmental victory” following the gamebird review last year after DEFRA announced it would bring certain gamebirds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
DEFRA committed to a number of actions, including creating a buffer zone around protected sites in which no gamebirds will be released.
However, in June this year Wild Justice issued pre-action protocol letters to DEFRA and said it would be revisiting the issue as it does not consider the government to have done what it told the court it would do.