Game-shooting industry offers to mark its own homework

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.


19 thoughts on “Game-shooting industry offers to mark its own homework”

  1. I really cannot see a problem in releasing game birds, by the time of their time of going to wood, usually late July almost all nesting and flowering has taken place, everything is starting to die back and by the time of the following nesting flowering season nearly all of the released birds are dead. Theres many many woods and hedgerows that would never have been planted if it wasnt for shooting, I know that as ive planted more than my share and am still planting.

    1. No, many of those woods and hedgerows wouldn’t be there, but that’s no justification, is it? You could (and still can) plant all of those without reference to shooting non-native farmed birds released to be shot. Alos, please supply a reference to your assertion that “nearly all of the released birds are dead” by the following spring.

    2. “I really cannot see a problem in releasing game birds”

      That’s because you don’t care how much disease they introduce, how much native fauna they predate nor how many vehicle accidents they cause. You don’t care how much lead is left scattered over the countryside, nor how much lead leaches into their carcasses, making their consumption dangerous. Neither do you care that the feed put out for them causes an unnatural balance in our native fauna, and that the unnatural density of game bird releases necessitates the suppression of our native predators, including the illegal persecution of our native raptors.

      Basically, it is all entirely unnatural and extremely harmful to our environment.

    3. “Theres (sic) many many woods and hedgerows that would never have been planted if it wasnt (sic) for shooting”

      Yet, “if it wasn’t for shooting”, a significant proportion of our uplands could be woodlands.

      Don’t see you, or your mates, complaining about that…

      1. Ooooh…that was a very clever way of putting that Coop! Well said, I’ll use that if you don’t mind, too good to be used just once.

      2. I saw a similar comment about fox hunting – that coppices and hedges were only retained for hunting. I thought of it then as the Landscape Vandalism threat.

    4. So much wrong with what you said, but I’ll just point out that much of the planting that’s been done for game cover has left many of our woods having the native wildlife choked out of them by invasive species such as rhododendron, snowberry, salmonberry, cotoneaster, Japanese rose and cherry laurel. While millions of pounds and thousands of volunteers are trying to fix this terrible mess across the country it’s still going on – this nursery is STILL selling cherry laurel for game cover, it’s certainly no good for wildlife!

    5. I get pheasant and RLP turning up on my patch. The first RLP turned up this spring, Not seen in the past decade (since I’ve been here). Obviously over-wintered in a live state. Not one or two, but several. The nearest shoot I’ve found is kilometres away (unless there’s a top sekret private shoot). Pheasant are known to affect/predate reptile and amphibian populations. I have (some) reptile and amphibian populations on my patch; I’d rather like to keep them, and pheasant (or which I’ve seen more than RLP) is just another pressure on their population.

      Then there’s other problems. Competition for natural resources (food), competing with the existing wild populations of birds.

      Pheasant and RLP don’t stick to their release sites. They disperse. A lot further than 500m.

    6. One problem where I live is the pheasants which seem keen to die on roads. Do you take any responsibility for the birds you release, and the damage to cars which can result?

  2. Nice try however let’s not forget.
    Same industry that gives advice to its employees on “what to do in the event of a police raid”!
    I cannot think where else this happens unless your occupation is clearly unlawful, drug dealer, bank robber etc etc

  3. Thanks for your efforts and your follow ups. With such limited resources you accomplish so much in so many different areas with such precision. Thank You.

  4. Auditors are only effective if they ask awkward or untoward questions. An auditor from a self-regulated industry wouldn’t be an auditor if they asked awkward or untoward questions.

  5. Yes, it works really well when Govt sits back and lets an industry it is chummy with provide it’s own assurance as to the quality and safety of it’s products. And then worse – Govt still won’t step up to protect people even after it’s shortcomings have been demonstrated in the most terrible way. i.e. the Grenfell tower tragedy / ongoing cladding scandal.

    1. I assume you are referring to Local Government, because it is Local Government which enforces building regulations.

      1. No Keith, personally I blame Westminster and our Civil Service Depts for a failing to regulate and ensure we have a safe building industry, whether enforced by LG or not. But this is heading off-topic. Suffice to say, I expect Westminster to ensure all food that ends up in our food chain is what it is supposed to be…be it horse-meat in dodgy minced beef or Old Bert’s manky badly shot-up Pheasants in supermarket game pies, they should not be trusting the producers of either / any meat to self-regulate.

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