Scottish Government makes unlikely claim to be monitoring avian flu in gamebirds

Last week, amid widespread concerns about gamebird-shooting during the current avian flu epidemic, the RSPB called for a moratorium on gamebird releases to help limit the catastrophic spread of this highly contagious virus (see here).

In a typical year, approximately 61 million non-native gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridges) are released into the UK countryside to be shot. This year the number has been reduced considerably due to an import ban on gamebird eggs from France, where many of the UK shooting industry’s gamebirds are sourced (see here), although birds sourced from UK game farms are unaffected by the ban and have already been released. How many, and where, is anyone’s guess.

In the run up to the RSPB’s call for a moratorium on gamebird releases, Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell had lodged a number of written questions on the subject.

These have now been answered by Environment Minister Mairi McAllan but her responses are contradictory and the claims made seem highly unlikely.

Apparently, the Government is ‘closely monitoring’ the potential spread of avian flu from gamebirds to wild birds, but there isn’t any detail on what that ‘close monitoring’ entails:

And if you look at the Minister’s next response, that ‘close monitoring’ looks even more unlikely given that the Government is not considering, nor does it intend to consider, a full registration scheme of all non-native gamebird releases:

Mark Ruskell also asked under what circumstances a moratorium on gamebird releases would be considered by the Scottish Government. The answer? ‘Where it would be in the public interest’. That hasn’t been defined either:

It’s hard to have any confidence in the Government’s commitment to this issue, given its complete indifference to the spread of another contagious disease, Crypotosporidiosis, and the known threat it poses to wild birds caused by the overstocking of gamebirds (here).

4 thoughts on “Scottish Government makes unlikely claim to be monitoring avian flu in gamebirds”

  1. Well done Mark Ruskell for asking these questions.

    There are some supplementary questions that Mark Ruskell could ask:
    Is there any evidence s of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in non-native game bird?(HPAI)
    What testing is planned to examine non-native game birds for HPAI?
    What testing has been carried out on non-native game birds for HPAI?
    What are the results and geographic location of any testing for HPAI?
    If there has been no testing of non-native game birds then what is the rationale for excluding non-native game birds which form a significant biomass of the bird population in some areas?

  2. It appears that they favour the money making from blood sports and the estates which operate this activity. I think the word is hypocrites.

  3. “… no evidence of spread of Avian Influenza from poultry or game birds to wild birds within the UK.” Really? Why then am I legally obliged to keep my 4 free-ranging hens and 1 cockerel locked up inside their coop when there’s an avian flu outbreak in my area? By what mechanism is this pathogen spread *only* from wild birds to poultry rather than in both directions between them? If the infection route is via wild bird ‘droppings’ then, having observed my chickens for 25 years, I have never seen them eating wild bird (or even their own) droppings.

    Interestingly, the only ‘wild birds’ my chickens have any close contact with are pheasants that visit our garden/orchard to raid their feeder. Which raises another question; when pheasants are released we have the legal nonsense that they some how change from ‘livestock’ to ‘wild birds’. Are they game birds, poultry or wild birds? They can’t be all or none.

    Quite obviously the transmission of the disease takes place between birds of all kinds and that neither the virus nor the birds could possibly make what is a purely the anthropocentric distinction between themselves. Clearly the disease spreads geographically between wild birds and is only a problem for humans if it reaches a high density poultry unit where it will spread very quickly between the captive birds. Increasing the volume of wild birds (which is what pheasants become both legally and practically on ‘release’) seems to be a woefully dim idea during a known outbreak of Avian Influenza…

  4. Sadly I view this as a question of political priorities i..e trade-offs.
    Nichola Sturgeon is well aware of the way the political wind is blowing at Westminster and the hostility that the two potenential Prime Ministers appear to hold towards Scotland in general and the SNP in particular. Westminster can and does make things difficult for the SNP but given the huge economic power some of the Tories have in Scotland they could make it a lot worse.
    In the event of the huge socio-political storm that is about to hit us she appears to have abandoned and real change in regards to the shooting industry prefering to prioritise other fields.
    This is why, in my mind, large landowners have the ear of the SNP as they already have MSP’s who are extremely sympathetic to these large landowners and financiers who are willing to allow the public to rewild cetrtain areas, with public help, while leaving the criminality to prosper on the adjoining Driven Grouse Moors…. and, of course, the expensive tourist accomodation and services for which rewilded areas will be the attraction.
    The only chance of effective change, from my view, is to increase public involvement. i have a lot of time for HIT who seem to have galvanised the fox and trail hunting issues in face of great hostility.

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