Calls to ban gamebird release to avoid ‘catastrophic’ avian flu outbreak

An article in today’s Guardian focuses on the RSPB’s call for an immediate moratorium on the release of birds for shooting, such as pheasants, partridges and ducks, due to the risk of them spreading highly pathogenic avian flu to wild bird populations.

It seems a perfectly reasonable request to DEFRA to me, although there’s a quote in the article from Glynn Evans of BASC who accuses the RSPB of ‘political grandstanding’ and of ‘ignorance about the virus’s behaviour’ and instead wants to talk about ‘the substantial role shooting plays in the countryside’. I’m not sure what that’s got to do with the issue at hand – sounds like he’s doing a bit of political grandstanding himself.

There’s also a quote from Mark Avery of Wild Justice: “Given how little is understood about the spread of avian flu it makes no sense to release tens of millions of captive-bred birds into the countryside for shooting. They constitute an unnecessary threat to wild birds and domestic poultry“.

The full impact of this highly pathogenic virus on our wild bird populations is currently unknown, although we do know that it has killed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of birds already, impacting on globally significant UK populations of some species, including Gannets and Great Skuas. There are also concerns about the impact the virus is having on a number of raptor species, notably the White-tailed eagle in Scotland. I’d argue that it would be wholly irresponsible, and selfish, for gamebird shoots to take place during such an epidemic.

I can’t imagine for a second that DEFRA will take this precautionary approach to avoid the potential spread of a devastating virus. We’ve been here before, remember? As DEFRA exempted gamebird shoots from Covid-related lockdown restrictions in 2020, despite the very obvious risk of spreading the virus amongst humans in the middle of a global pandemic, they sure as hell aren’t going to bother about a virus spreading from gamebirds to wild birds.

You can read the article in The Guardian here.

12 thoughts on “Calls to ban gamebird release to avoid ‘catastrophic’ avian flu outbreak”

  1. My understanding is that a big percentage of released pheasants are imported from France, at egg, chick or poult stage and that, for a number of years, there has been a noticeably reduced survival rate when compared to UK bred birds. France, apparently, does little in relation to bird flu, in fact barely seems to recognise it. In view of the current situation, why are we continuing to import pheasants from France?

      1. Sorry, I hadn’t picked up on the DEFRA restriction, a surprising action on their part, though it is a move which needed to be made. Avian flu has become a serious problem, on a par with covid in the human population and it is obviously worse where birds are congregated in large numbers, whether they are overwintering wildfowl, breeding seabird colonies or large commercial domestic flocks. I hope someone is having a close look quietly in the background as nothing seems to be mentioned in the press. The only comment I’ve heard is that it will be at least four years before any treatment is developed. That’s not going to help the wild population anyway.

    1. I wonder about Tick-Bourne Encephalitis, and whether any responsible body is checking for it in imported birds. It is present elsewhere in Europe. The first recorded infection of a person in the UK happened recently.

  2. Lots of red-leg partidges have already been released. Those shoots that bother to follow GWCT guidelines will have completed their releasing in advance of usual shoot dates at the beginning of September. Thus giving the birds the recommended minimum of a month out of their pens before being shot.

  3. How can we see if pheasant release is halted when we’ve no idea how many pheasants are released, or where? And where would DEFRA start, if they wanted to implement a ban on releases? Shoots are legally required to register any flock of captive pheasants greater than 50 with The Animal and Plant Health Authority (APHA), but few do, and there doesn’t appear to be any enforcement, or penalty for not complying with the law. The APHA figure for gamebirds released is 12-14 million, compared with the 60 million figure quoted by the gamebird industry (and the Guardian article).
    I tried to get Wild Justice to take a legal case to enforce APHA to fulfil its responsibilities, but I’ve had no response yet. APHA is not fit for purpose, and is unable to assist in helping stop the spread of Avian Flu

  4. Is the feeding of Red Kites then going to be stopped ?, theres sometimes hundreds of Kites and other birds feeding on meat thrown out for them, on sites in Wales and Scotland .
    What about rearing free range turkeys, is this also going to end ? .
    Its too late now anyway, the pheasants and Partridge have been released and have been for a few weeks.
    Just think of all those easy meals Buzzards have off all those reared birds, when they are carrion by road kill or dead by not being picked up after being shot, and even the dumping of shot game feeds something, and before lead gets a mention, if I was a hungry buzzards in winter id take my chance and eat a shot bird rather than hunt my own vole or look for a worm.,
    I also pick up my share of road kill pheasants, they are very very tasty, roasted pheasant , fried ,pheasant, pheasant soup, pheasant sandwiches, all good, if you cant pick them up, ask your nearest Shoot and they will give you a brace.

    1. Who in their right mind would want to eat game birds killed with lead shot???
      Road kill might be OK but only if very recently killed.

  5. Dear Ruth. I was outraged to see this pop up on my phone. What a stinker this telegraph man is. Wonder who he really works for. I hope the devil bites his arse. Good wishes to you and all like you. Regards.Lance Moore.

  6. In addition to the threat of avian flu, it was mentioned on the news today the negative impact the heatwave and drought conditions across much of England and Wales is having on native wildlife. So perhaps the shooting industry would like to explain how releasing millions of non native birds will help an already dire situation for so much of our native wildlife?
    Also bearing in mind an amber warning for extreme heat extends across much of England and Wales until the 14th August, with many of the grouse moors tinder dry and at very high risk of wild fires. So despite all the warnings to the public, I have to wonder whether the “Tweed Brigade” will suspend shooting on the 12th until the moors are in a less perilous state?
    Perhaps the word “conservation” should be removed from those organisations which try and claim game shooting is vital for conserving wildlife and the environment. It is times like these when the game shooting industry exposes itself for what it truly is.

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