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.