Yesterday the Chief Veterinary Officers from England, Scotland and Wales declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across Great Britain to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading amongst poultry and captive birds.
As of midday on 17th October, it is now a legal requirement for all bird keepers in Great Britain to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the threat of avian flu – details can be found in this press release from DEFRA.
The new rules require bird keepers with more than 500 birds to restrict access for non-essential people on their sites, workers will need to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and site vehicles will need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly to limit the risk of the disease spreading. Backyard owners with smaller numbers of poultry including chickens, ducks and geese must also take steps to limit the risk of the disease spreading to their animals.
Of course, these rules do not apply to gamekeepers in charge of millions of pheasants and red-legged partridges that have been reared and released for shooting. DEFRA ignored the RSPB’s request in August to call for a temporary halt on gamebird releases (here) and DEFRA has not imposed a restriction on gamebird shooting following yesterday’s declaration.
For those of you who followed Wild Justice’s recent legal challenge, you’ll know that the status of these birds as either ‘livestock’ or ‘wildlife’ is ridiculously interchangeable to suit the game shooters and once the birds (‘livestock’) have been released from their pens into the countryside, they suddenly become ‘wildlife’, until the end of the shooting season when the gamekeepers want to capture them again for breeding purposes and so the birds magically become ‘livestock’ again (see here and here).
I’ve read a few articles by commentators about yesterday’s announcement from DEFRA, asking why the new Avian Flu regulations don’t apply to the release of gamebirds. I think this question is irrelevant because the vast majority of gamebirds reared for shooting were released in July and August, in readiness for the opening of the shooting season on 1st September (red-legged partridge) and 1st October (pheasants). Having said that though, there have been reports in the past that some shoots release further stock during the shooting season to ‘replenish’ or replace the stock that has already been shot.
A more pertinent question, in my opinion, is how the declaration of Great Britain becoming an Avian Flu Prevention Zone will impact on the markets for shot gamebirds.
I can’t imagine many game dealers wanting to buy shot gamebirds from shoots where it is impossible to provide unequivocal evidence that the gamebirds weren’t infected with Avian Flu, no matter how many biosecurity measures a shoot operator may have in place. Indeed, for those game dealers who also export meat, they’re likely to lose their licence if they accept gamebirds on their premises that were shot in Prevention Zones.
There’s then the small matter of the Code of Good Shooting Practice, which states:
‘Shoot managers must ensure they have appropriate arrangements in place for the sale or consumption of the anticipated bag in advance of all shoot days‘.
The Code of Good Shooting Practice is in effect, just advice. It has no legal standing and is unenforceable. It’s about as authoritative as the Green Cross Code. However, the game shooting industry often points to it as evidence that the industry is capable of self-regulation, even though there are endless examples of shoots and shooters breaching the code, not least the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey on game shoots (see here), the ongoing non-compliance of using lead shot over wetlands (e.g. see here) and the regular dumping of shot gamebirds, e.g. 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), Somerset again (here), Liverpool (here), even more in North Wales (here) even more in Wales, again (here), in Wiltshire (here) in Angus (here) and in Somerset again (here).
To be fair, there will be some sensible shoots who withdraw shoot days this year now the risk of Avian Flu has heightened, even though that will result in financial losses.
But you can bet your house that there will be plenty of others, the unscrupulous, selfish and greedy, who continue to host shoots to kill thousands of birds, without having made prior arrangement for the sale of those birds because it’s suddenly become very difficult to find anyone who’ll want them, and who will simply dump them in the countryside, a potential ticking time bomb of disease for any raptors and other scavengers who descend for an easy meal.