The situation is so bad that on 7th November 2022, an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone was implemented across the UK, which means that it is currently a legal requirement for all bird keepers to house their birds to help reduce the risk to captive flocks as well as to wild birds, from this serious and notifiable disease.
That is, all bird keepers except gamekeepers. They can pretty much do as they please with their, literally, millions of pheasants and red-legged partridges, because the status of those birds as either ‘livestock’ or ‘wildlife’ is ridiculously interchangeable to suit the game shooters so 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 Wild Justice blogs on this here and here).
It’s good to see that Private Eye is now highlighting this scandalous situation and asking the question about why DEFRA hasn’t brought in any measures to reduce the risk of these gamebirds spreading bird flu to wild birds and poultry (thanks to the blog reader who sent this in):
Things will become very interesting at the end of the shooting season when it’s time to ‘catch up’ gamebirds that haven’t been shot, to bring them into captivity for breeding purposes.
We know that ‘Schrodinger’s Pheasant’ wondrously turns from being ‘wildlife’ back to being classified as ‘livestock’ (see diagram above) to enable this activity to be legal. We also know that avian flu in France, where millions of gamebird poults are sourced for the UK game-shooting market, was badly affected by avian flu this year, causing a ban on the importation of those eggs and poults and given the current increase in avian flu cases there at the moment, the same situation may arise again, which means there may be more pressure on UK game-shooters to ‘catch up’ even more of their wild stock/livestock in preparation for the 2023 shooting season.
But just how sensible, or indeed legal, will it be to ‘catch up’ wild birds in the midst of an avian flu epidemic?
Surely DEFRA has given this some thought and is preparing its position in advance?