Answer from House of Lords about status of pheasants (livestock or wildlife?)

Last week I blogged about how Green peer Natalie Bennett had posed a question in the House of Lords, asking the UK Government ‘whether they regard captive-reared pheasants released into the environment as wildlife or livestock?‘ (see here).

This question stems from the Government’s ongoing contortions relating to the legal status of pheasants, a status that seemingly is able to morph from being ‘livestock’ to ‘wildlife’ and then back to ‘livestock’ at various points in the year, which provides the pheasant owner/keeper with multiple opportunities to kill native predators and avoid legal responsibility for public damage all at the same time. This flow chart from Wild Justice sums it up well:

Conservative life peer and DEFRA Minister Zac Goldsmith has now responded to Natalie Bennett’s question as follows:

A released captive-reared pheasant may be regarded as livestock if it remains significantly dependent on a keeper for their survival, for example for the provision of food, water or shelter‘.

Hmm. That’s not especially helpful when ‘significantly dependent’ hasn’t been defined, although we do know from DEFRA’s new General Licences this year that supplementary feeding of pheasants does not count in this context. Hmm, it’s all very odd.

Wild Justice has taken legal advice on this issue this week and you can expect to hear more from them in due course…. and you’ll hear it first if you subscribe to their free newsletter here.

Tarras Valley volunteers reclaiming the pheasant-rearing woods from Langholm Moor

In 2020 the community of Langholm in the Scottish Borders successfully raised £3.8 million to buy a knackered old grouse moor from the Duke of Buccleugh and transform it into a vast new nature reserve for the benefit of wildlife and the local community (see here).

Many blog readers supported and contributed to this fundraising challenge (thank you) and helped create what is now called the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve.

Kudos to the volunteers who have been busy in recent weeks clearing old fences, netting and feeding barrels from the woods which were formerly used for pheasant-rearing/shooting.

These photos of their efforts were posted on social media yesterday:

In November 2021 the community began fundraising once again, to ‘finish what we started’, and has launched stage two of the biggest community buyout scheme in south Scotland to buy the remainder of Langholm Moor which would effectively double the size of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve.

If you’d like to make a contribution to help support this impressive lot, please visit their crowdfunder here.

Thank you.

More pheasants shot & dumped, this time in North Wales

Here we go again, one of the most disgusting consequences of releasing approx 60 million non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges into the countryside in their millions. They’re shot for a bit of a laugh and then some of them are simply dumped. Undoubtedly this is driven by an over-supply of birds and little demand by consumers for purchasing game bird meat, especially when it’s contaminated with toxic lead shot.

Unfortunately for the game shooting industry, desperate to portray itself as responsible and law-abiding with the utmost respect for its quarry, this is yet another ongoing, criminal and widespread problem associated with gamebird shooting and such a PR disaster is drawing even more attention to an industry already under intense pressure to clean up its act.

Previous examples include dumped gamebirds in Cheshire, Scottish borders (here), Norfolk (here), Perthshire (here), Berkshire (here), North York Moors National Park (here) and some more in North York Moors National Park (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), Lincolnshire (here), Somerset (here), Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park (here), Suffolk (here), Leicestershire again (here) and Liverpool (here).

Yesterday, four bin bags stuffed full of dead pheasants were found dumped behind a hedge in Tremeirchion, in Denbighshire, North Wales. Judy Oliver Hewitt posted these photographs on social media:

This obscene behaviour will continue to receive attention on this blog for as long as the gamebird shooting industry demands licences to kill protected birds of prey for the purpose of ‘saving’ gamebirds.

Online abuse from Steve Grant, assistant editor of Countryman’s Weekly magazine

Yesterday I wrote a blog that drew attention to the UK Government’s Environment Food Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee’s inquiry into rural mental health and its call for evidence (here).

It didn’t seem to me to be controversial in any way, it was just simply highlighting the committee’s call for evidence and encouraging people to participate in what I described as a ‘timely inquiry’.

Apparently though, this makes me a ‘harridan’, wanting you ‘arguably unhinged’ blog supporters to ‘subvert’ a Government enquiry, according to a gentleman called Steve Grant who just happens to be the assistant editor of the Countryman’s Weekly magazine.

Here’s what he wrote on twitter yesterday:

The irony of this latest (in a long line) of online abuse from Mr Grant isn’t lost on me. Really I should thank him for providing even more evidence for the committee to ponder, which demonstrates that the problem of rural mental health is an issue that really does need to be addressed, and especially when that abuse, so clearly designed to damage the recipient’s mental well-being, is being propagated by the assistant editor of a national magazine.

You have to wonder what motivates a middle-aged man to spend his evenings abusing women online with 17th century insults? I could speculate, but I won’t.

Many thanks to Alister Clunas for calling him out.

For those of you who wish to submit evidence to the Environment Food Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee’s inquiry into rural mental health, please visit here and remember the deadline for doing this is this Friday (21st January 2022).

Rural mental health survey – this Govt committee needs to hear from you

The UK Government’s Environment Food Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee is hosting an inquiry into rural mental health (see here) and has issued a call for evidence (here).

This is a timely inquiry as there are many in the rural community who suffer huge mental stress and don’t necessarily receive the support they need (e.g. farmers having to deal with violent hare coursers).

I note that the game-shooting industry is urging its members to submit evidence, particularly that of gamekeepers who claim to be the subject of widespread abuse (see here), and you can predict where this will lead if the Government committee only hears from this sector and not from those of us at the receiving end of abuse from the game-shooting industry and others, such as the fox-hunting lot.

The inquiry has been open since November 2021 and it closes this Friday (21st January 2022) so time is short but I would encourage you to contribute if you’re able, so the committee receives views from a wide range of people.

The type of evidence you may wish to contribute would include incidents of harassment, violence, intimidation, direct and indirect threatening behaviour, vehicle damage, pet injury/death through poisoning, shooting, snaring etc, arson, online abuse, doxxing etc. You may also want to listen to this recent recording from journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch, who spoke about the effect of pheasant shooting next to her property:

Here is the link if you’d like to contribute evidence to the committee and remember the deadline is this Friday – see here.

UPDATE 19th January 2022: Online abuse from Steve Grant, assistant editor of Countryman’s Weekly magazine (here)

The widespread mis-use of crow cage traps to trap & kill birds of prey

RSPB Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock published an insightful blog yesterday (‘Cage traps in the spotlight across the UK’) detailing the ongoing and widespread mis-use and abuse of crow cage traps, often used by criminal gamekeepers to trap and kill raptors, sometimes deliberately and sometimes through reckless negligence.

His blog provided details of an incident in Wales in April last year, and I don’t recall seeing any media coverage of this case. The following text is reproduced directly from Guy’s blog:

A case from April last year again highlights our concerns. A member of public found a crow cage trap on sheep grazing farmland in North Wales containing a buzzard, a red kite and multiple crows. The finder released all the birds and reported it to us.

As with all cage traps outside Scotland, without marking and registration it can far more difficult, often impossible, to identify the trap operator. A visit by my colleague Niall Owen confirmed the presence of a lamb carcass, which should have been properly disposed of and not used as bait, along with two carrion crows. A week later the trap held two crows and a buzzard plus the bodies of two further crows. To identify a trap operator, and to determine whether the licence conditions were being complied with, a covert camera was installed for a couple of days. At this point, there was no clear contravention of the licence conditions. The buzzard was in good health, so it was left in situ and provided with fresh water and food just in case visits were not made. One dead crow was seized and sent off for a post-mortem. Two days later the buzzard was still present, thankfully alive and well, so was released unharmed. We informed North Wales Police who identified the farmer operating the trap and ensured it was rendered incapable of trapping.

[Buzzard caught inside the cage trap, photo by Niall Owen, RSPB. This bird was released by the RSPB when it became clear the trap was not being operated lawfully]

The post-mortem on the carrion crow confirmed the bird had died of starvation, confirming further breaches of the licence conditions and animal welfare regulations. Had the original finder and ourselves not released the trapped birds, we fear they would have met the same fate. This case was about negligence rather than any deliberate targeting of birds of prey, and following the police investigation, the operator was given a Community Resolution Order. This had a requirement that they could not operate cage traps until a suitable course has been attended.

Guy’s blog is timely as we await the sentencing of a gamekeeper who has recently been convicted of killing two buzzards in a cage trap in Nottinghamshire (see here). The RSPB has what Guy describes as ‘graphic footage’ filmed on a covert camera showing exactly how the gamekeeper used the trap to catch and then kill two buzzards. I understand the RSPB will release this video evidence after sentencing next week.

I’d encourage you to read Guy’s blog in full (here) to understand the different approaches being deployed (or not) to address these offences in England, Scotland and Wales and how members of the public can help catch the killers.

Raptor persecution ignored in North York Moors National Park draft management plan

The North York Moors National Park Authority (NYMNPA) is currently consulting on its draft management plan, which aims to set out a series of priority actions to help the Park tackle issues which include ‘recovery from the COVID pandemic, escalating climate and nature emergencies, increasing mental and physical health problems among the general population, and the need to change the way we look after our landscapes‘.

You can download the draft plan here:

I had a quick read through this document at the weekend and was surprised to see how little substance it contained and how vague its stated 22 priority objectives were. For example, whilst there was general commentary around ‘active restoration’ of degraded blanket bog and peat habitats, the only reference I found that might possibly allude to the massive environmental problems caused by intensive driven grouse shooting, which dominates the landscape of this National Park, was this:

Objective 8 – Work with our moorland community to support the sustainable management of moorland to ensure it retains a natural remoteness which supports a greater variety of species and habitats.

I didn’t find one single reference to tackling wildlife crime, and especially raptor persecution, which has long been recognised as an ongoing characteristic of this National Park. For example, just in the last few years alone we’ve seen a shot buzzard (here), a poisoned buzzard (here), deliberate disturbance of a goshawk breeding attempt (here), a satellite-tagged hen harrier vanish in suspicious circumstances (here), another shot buzzard (here), and another shot buzzard (here), a goshawk trapped, reportedly killed and taken away in sack (here), another poisoned buzzard (here), an illegally-set trap (here), and five shot buzzards found stuffed under a rock (here).

Nor did I find any reference to targeting the mass release of non-native gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridge) or assessing the damage they cause inside the National Park. It seems the North York Moor National Park Authority could do with taking a look at the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s management plan, which has recently included this issue as one of its priorities (see here).

The North York Moors National Park draft management plan is important, because it aims to set out its vision for how the National Park will be in 20 years time.

According to the NYMNPA website, ‘the draft plan is the result of a series of conversations with stakeholders and partners over the last year. The proposals it contains are not set in stone. Neither we nor our partners possess a monopoly of wisdom. This document invites discussion, input and feedback so that the final plan can properly reflect as wide a range of views as possible. It is an opportunity for everyone to collaborate with us to create a shared plan that will shape the future of the North York Moors National Park‘.

The Park Authority wants your views, whether you live in the Park or you are a visitor. Particularly, it wants to know whether it has ‘missed something that is important to you’:

If you share my concerns about ongoing raptor persecution in this National Park, and the unregulated mass release of non-native species for shooting, I’d encourage you to contact the NYMNPA and ask them to prioritise tackling these issues in the management plan. Contact details are shown in the image above.

Please note, the consultation closes this Friday (21st January 2022).

Thank you.

Question from House of Lords about status of pheasants (livestock or wildlife?)

Earlier this month conservation campaign group Wild Justice said it was taking further legal advice after DEFRA continued to cause confusion about the status of captive-reared pheasants – when do they transition from being ‘livestock’ to being ‘wild birds’ and how do you tell (see here)?

Wild Justice also produced this handy flow-chart, which they named Schrodinger’s Pheasant, ever-so-slightly taking the piss on a subject that actually deserves far more mockery than this:

This ridiculous situation attracted a lot of media attention, as well it should. And now a question has even been asked about it in the House of Lords!

This from Natalie Bennett (Green party life peer), who said on Twitter, ‘Pheasants – livestock or wildlife? The government seems very confused on this issue, so I’m giving them the chance to clarify‘ and posted a link to this Parliamentary question:

A response is due from DEFRA by 19th January 2022.

UPDATE 22nd January 2022: Answer from House of Lords about status of pheasants (livestock or wildlife?) here

Rewilding Scotland’s grouse moors: a discussion

Scotland’s Moorland Forum is hosting an online discussion between several key individuals about whether rewilding is compatible with other moorland use such as grouse shooting.

Of particular interest to readers of this blog will be the discussion about the impact of intensive grouse moor management on species such as golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, hen harriers, red kites, peregrines, buzzards, short-eared owls etc.

Members of the public can attend, free of charge, and participate in a Q&A session.

Here’s the advertising blurb from the Moorland Forum:

Join us for a lively and timely discussion.

Moorland Forum Chairman, Hugh Raven, will be in discussion with Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life & Convenor of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance; Magnus Davidson, Research Associate at UHI, Director of Community Land Scotland, a Trustee of Thurso Community Development Trust, founding member of Scotland’s 2050 Climate Group; and Andrew Painting, Assistant Ecologist Mar Lodge Estate & Author of ‘Regeneration – The Rescue of a Wild Land’.

This event will delve into fundamental issues such as whether moorland can ever be seen as compatible with rewilding ambitions. For example, could moorland be wilder and still produce grouse shooting and farmed livestock? And, can we have rewilding sitting alongside modified landscapes or do they compromise each other?

A key concept which will be explored is how people fit into a rewilded landscape, and how rural communities’ fare. Rewilding causes concern for some in terms of the diminution of existing industries which are reliant on moorland such as grouse shooting and upland farming (and the supplier businesses that feed into these activities), in favour of newer opportunities from rewilding. We will discuss these opportunities, the relevance of existing rural skills are and whether earning potential remains comparable. We will also touch on the new Green Lairds – as they have been termed – and their role in Scottish rural communities.

The discussion will also touch on debates about wildfire risks and the impact on moorland species of different management regimes.

The format

The evening will fall into to two parts, with the first half of the evening given over to Hugh Raven in discussion with our speakers, while the second half of the evening will see Hugh pose questions asked by the online audience.


Places are free, but we ask that you register in order to gain access to the link for the evening and other preparatory information.

After the event

Scotland’s Moorland Forum is running a series of topic-based discussions both as part of its regular schedule of meetings, and as online public events. This event is the first of our public online events.

We plan to explore two major topics that have a relevance to the future of moorlands in the wider context of Scotland’s uplands each year.

After those discussions, a paper will be developed which provides an objective synthesis of the discussion and opinions gathered. The discussions and the resulting papers will be relevant to Scottish ministers, policy-makers and stakeholders, and all with an interest in Scotland’s moorlands and upland areas. The output will become publicly available on Scotland’s Moorland Forum as a resource for all.

Points to note ahead of joining a discussion event:-

Each topic will be considered in terms of its relationship to moorland or moorland in the context of the wider uplands.

The aim of the discussions is to capture opinion in whatever way it exists, and it is important that participants come to the events with the understanding that all opinion is valid and should be given space to be heard. Indeed, we hope that an important part of the value of these discussions will be that they allow a safe space for the exchange of ideas amongst people and organisations that have differing views. In this way the broader conversations about the use and management of Scotland’s moorlands and uplands might move forwards.

Participants must be respectful in their communications and mannerisms.

The papers that will come from these discussions will not make a judgement on the rights or wrongs of a given topic or viewpoint. They aim to provide an objective synthesis of the various opinions that exist, highlight consensus where it exists, but also capture opposing views. They will aim to identify ways in which discussion can continue to move forwards – this might be through the Forum or by other means.

We look forward to welcoming you on 9 February.


To register for this event, please click here

Police investigation launched after multiple raptors found poisoned by rodenticides

West Yorkshire Police published the following statement on its Facebook page yesterday:

Unfortunately there isn’t any information about the number of raptors poisoned, which species, on what dates they were found, or at which locations.

I haven’t been able to find any other reports or details – there isn’t anything on the West Yorkshire Police website or on its various Twitter accounts.

Thanks to the blog reader who drew my attention to the Facebook page.

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