Dead pheasants found dumped in river in North Yorkshire

A member of the public out for a Christmas Day walk yesterday on the edge of the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in North Yorkshire found a mass of dead pheasants floating in the River Derwent by the Howsham Bridge.

Presumably these are pheasants that have been shot and then dumped. It might be related to avian flu (i.e. game dealers not wanting to take shot birds where there’s a risk they may be infected with avian flu so the shoot manager wants to get rid) but to be honest, dumping shot gamebirds is not a new phenomenon, it’s been happening up and down the country for years, prior to this latest outbreak of avian flu: 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).

It’s not known who dumped the pheasants in the River Derwent. There are large pheasant pens just a few hundred metres upstream, directly north east of Howsham Hall, but as these carcasses are floating in the river they could have been dumped further upstream.

The dumping of shot game birds is a breach 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, however, in effect, just advice. It has no legal standing and is unenforceable. It’s handy for the shooting industry to point to it as ‘evidence’ that the industry is capable of self-regulation but it’s not really worth the paper it’s written on if shoot managers can breach it without consequence, as they so often do.

The member of the public who found these dumped birds yesterday says he’s reported his finding to the Environment Agency but has been told it’s not in its remit to deal with it, which seems a bit strange given the dumping of dead livestock, potentially infected with avian flu, is both a public health and environmental issue. He says he’s also reported it to the local council and to DEFRA’s ‘dead bird’ portal for monitoring the spread of avian flu.

Earlier this year, after yet another episode of dumped shot game birds, there was an exchange in the House of Lords where game bird shooter and DEFRA Minister Lord Benyon denied that there was evidence of shot gamebirds being dumped (I know!) and Lord Newby, having seen the evidence provided by this blog, stated he would pursue Benyon to find out what plans the Government had for dealing with it (see here).

UPDATE 5th February 2023: DEFRA Minister responds to House of Lords question on avian flu risk posed by shot, dumped game birds (here).

28 thoughts on “Dead pheasants found dumped in river in North Yorkshire”

  1. I listened to a chap on the Today Programme this morning describing how terrific murdering birds with guns is as a way of getting healthy exercise and having a social life.

    1. It was the odious ‘Lord’ Ian Botham, a has-been cricketer and noisy defender of moorland shooting. Apparently, without shoots, the moors would be lifeless and it’s the control carried out by managers which make them the hive of biodiversity they now are. He assured listeners that those who kill raptors are the rare exception which all shooters condemn. So that’s all right.

      1. I presume the presenters of Radio 4’s Today programme corrected him on this. Not.

        So, who was worse? The self-acclaimed shooter, or Radio 4’s editor and presenters?

  2. Earlier this year, I commissioned legal advice from Edie Bowles of Animal Advocates, on the legality of abandoning wild animal carcasses (because that’s what the shooting estates will claim these birds were at the time they were shot). I’ll forward a copy to you (RP).

    If the birds can be tested for avian flu and found to be diseased then they should have been disposed of in accordance with the Animal By-Product Regulations (ABPR).

    If the birds were shot for human consumption and then it was decided that they would not be consumed then, once again, they should have been disposed of in accordance with the ABPR.

    1. RP – a correction and apology.

      Edie Bowles of Advocates for Animals has provided legal advice to me on several occasions regarding the legality or otherwise of the dumping of bodies of wild game and wild animals in stink pits and on game keeper gibbet lines and potential criminal offences committed by the use of these practices.

      I’m afraid I gave an incorrect and extremely simplistic interpretation of the law above. Sorry for that. The law is so complex that I simply couldn’t explain it in this response BUT I do think there may be a breach of legislation here.

      I have forwarded to you the advice that Edie gave me on two legal issues which I consider relevant so that you (RP) can see the correct interpretation of the law.

      Unfortunately the legislation is extremely complicated and not straight forward on whether wild game is covered by Animal By-Product Regulations and whether the dumping of the bodies of wild animals is a breach of ABPR or environmental protection laws or waste regulations. It’s very much a case by case basis BUT I think there may be some breaches of legislation here.

      RP – if you have the contact details of the person who made the complaint to the EA, please could you forward the legal advice to them. I, and colleagues of mine, have had extensive correspondence with the Environment Agency over the years on the legality of dumping animal bodies in stink pits and they have certainly accepted and investigated complaints we have raised about dumped animal bodies. They have agreed (in the stink pit cases we have reported) that they are the relevant body to deal with S33 and S34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 – especially when the dumping of animal bodies relates to the potential contamination of waterways!

      Unfortunately getting the Environment Agency to take action on incidents of this nature is, in my experience at least, an uphill battle. Just as Ruth won’t take no for an answer, I’m afraid the complainant will need to persist. Please get some legal advice – perhaps off the RSPB’s Crime Investigation Team? They are very good and supportive. Please, please don’t give up!

      Once again – apologies for making an incorrect comment.

  3. It’s illegal to shoot birds over water with lead shot (to avoid pollution and the poisoning of waterfowl) but when pheasants legally shot with lead are dumped in the river to rot, it’s not the concern of the Environment Agency? That’s the crazy world of the regulators of the shooting industry!

    1. My thoughts, too. Perhaps the original finder might remind the Environment Agency that these carcasses will likely contain lead?

      And, as in all correspondence with such statutory bodies about shooting matters, I always advise to copy-in your MP. Helps to keep them on their toes… and builds up evidence.

  4. Surely the Environment Agency should be concerned by the dumping of these dead pheasant carcasses. Isn’t there the possibility of poisoning fish and waterfowl?
    So, no concern then? Considering the Agency’s overall responsibility is the protection and enhancement of the environment in England. And is funded through government grants, therefore taxes on our hard-earned monies.
    Utterly deplorable.

  5. To be fair to EA, this was reported on a public holiday when staff will be minimal. Go back and ask to speak to a manager. And EA funding has been cut to the bone by this Government to the stent they will investigate only ‘major’ incidents.

  6. If on closer inspection it was found that these carcasses had been filleted/ stripped of their breast meat and that meat was put into the human food chain, it would maybe constitute a greater legal offence – in addition to being an indefensible moral offence in its own right.

    1. What carcasses or evidence they were shot? How many do you see in these pics? How many did the OP count or, remove? I see no carcasses? Just a few Fresh looking wings and feathers that haven’t been in the water very long? No visible heads or tail feathers? Yet again, how convenient and timing that a regular, vocal social media anti shooting poster found them. How is the posable remains from any random food prep linked to AI, any estate or shoot? If OP etc so bothered and locality now so well known why haven’t they removed what they can? I would of if on my patch. So little evidence! So many questions! Sadly, so much random speculation from folk that should know better pushing an agenda! Yet again. . . . . .Not expecting this to remain up/show in any form Ruth, as i see you have now blocked me on twitter?? Why? As i have never commented on anything you have said. Yes I shoot, fish and choose to harvest my own food, It means as much to me as the wildlife and conservation we all say we care about. Sadly to many, with limited knowledge or real passion are hiding behind/using it to push their political money spinning agenda.

      1. Hi Steve, like you I would have dragged a few out with a long branch if possible and looked carefully to determine if they had been stripped of the breast fillets (which is my own honest “best theory” based on having done all that sort of shite myself working on an estate, and having myself dumped sack loads of remains into a water-filled old quarry). Then I would have took a bagful away and consulted with someone who may have wished to look at them / x-ray for lead shot. Then again I and perhaps you have no problem messing about with dead /rotting things and enjoy the Boys Own silliness of risking plunging into a cold weir in winter. To me you are shooting yourself and the responsible shooting world in the foot by having a pop at the person who found them (I haven’t a clue who that is, as I seldom look at twitter). Is it really your honest “best theory” that this was a staged scene by the finder?

        1. Wow! My comment still up Ruth. This is a 1st. Especially as you have be blocked recently and RPUK on twitter for some reason??
          Hi Spaghnum, I think we have had exchanges before, poss M.A’s blog? Think we all been around a while and know the score. Sadly so much division! Would love to know your story and why you so anti shooting now?
          Again! What carcasses? How many? What do you see? I see fresh dumped wings and feathers. No heads or tails. Would anyone notice, care/make an issue if it was a sheep? Think not! No Boys Own silliness required. If anyone really cared, easy to remove with care using anglers landing net, picker, chest waders if need be and disposed of. Remains of food prep. Could be from any where if public access and flowing stream. Lot of birds available in the feather from many outlets. Or poss poachers. where is there any link to AI? None! No X-ray needed if you know what your looking at. Why are you disposing of remains in old flooded quarry? You obviously not an angler or care about livestock and the environment? What’s wrong with using dead stock/prep/ farm waste bin.
          Where have i said staged? Said convenient the “member of the public” knew what they were, found them so fresh and was bothered. More than half the public can’t identify a robin. Recognised him as a known anti and surprised it appeared on here so quick. I have enquired. But no reply! I bet Ruth knows of him? He’s been back and posted another telling (soggy) pic. Saying they mallard feathers. . . . Odd it turned in to Beefy bashing to.

          1. Hi Steve, shooting is fine with me. The shooting industry isn’t. They do not deserve your admirable loyalty and efforts to defend them. In my experience at the upper end of driven shooting – all of the Owners, 9 out of 10 of the Guns and all of the Agents “would not piss on you (or me, or their keepers and other lickspittles and lackeys) if you were on fire”…unless they had something to gain from it. Grassroots shooters need to ditch their unity with them and give support to those people and birds and wildlife that deserve it. No doubt I will see you again on another thread, until then genuine best wishes…

          2. Steve,

            Your fury at being blocked on Twitter is noted. I don’t need to justify my decisions to you or to anyone else. You’re blocked, get over it (and yourself).

            Re: the member of the public who you’ve described as “a known anti”. He’s actually a post-doc researcher specialising in ornithology at a high-ranking university and as far as I have seen, he provides thoughtful, considered commentary on a wide range of issues.

            Be very careful with your future comments on here, please.

      2. Steve,
        Instead of starting from a position of denial that this has anything to do with pheasant shooting, start from am unbiased position, and ask yourself the following questions.

        How did such a large concentration of body parts end up in a water course?
        Is such a concentration of body parts natural?
        What event has happened which killed some many pheasants at once?
        Where in the countryside do we find dense concentrations of pheasants, which would have enabled someone to collect up such a large number of body parts, then transport and dump them in the water course ?
        Who put these body parts on mass in the river?
        Why would anyone do this?
        Who would have the means, and motivation to do this?

        Pheasants are not a native UK wild bird, and anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time in the countryside will have observed that the only place pheasants are found on mass is in and around shooting estates.
        Any pheasants dying of natural causes would most probably have their carcasses picked over by scavengers, and it is highly unlikely they would have died on mass, and moments before their death, jumped into a river..
        It is also the time of year when traditionally pheasant shooting takes place.
        There is also historic evidence of large numbers of dead pheasants being dumped following a shooting event.

        The logical conclusion of answering the above questions is that these pheasant body parts have been dumped by an irresponsible individual, or group of individuals, who have no real care for the countryside and environment. Who gave no thought to how decomposing body parts could contaminate a water course. And the most likely source of the body parts was from a pheasant shoot.

        I note in your comment, you claim you would have removed these body parts from the river.
        The UK government has released the following information, regarding avian flu and what to do if a person finds dead or sick birds in the countryside-
        “Do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find.”

        So to suggest you would have attempted to retrieve these body parts yourself is hardly the actions of a responsible individual or someone with a good knowledge of the countryside and environmental matters. The correct course of action would have been to report the dead birds to DEFRA using the link on the UK Gov website, or to the local authority.

        I would suspect responsible shooting estates would have already given some thought as to how to manage an outbreak of avian flu, and would have sought guidance and put appropriate measures in place to deal with such an event. I would also suggest responsible shooting estates also have appropriate protocols for dealing with unwanted birds following a days shooting.
        However the shooting industry is blighted by irresponsible individuals and estates, whose only concern is the money which can be made from the mass killing of lots of game birds.

        You are right to suggest those with a limited knowledge and a real passion for the environment and natural world are hiding behind false banners, when in reality their claims of wanting to conserve wildlife is merely a false pretence to pursue their own agendas.
        But I think that accusation can be more properly directed towards those that ignore all the evidence and scientific research, and engage in criminal or environmentally damaging behaviour towards nature and the natural world.
        I would suggest dumping pheasant carcasses or unwanted body parts in a water course falls firmly in the environmentally damaging behaviour category.

        1. John,
          Not denial. Finder says carcasses. Look at the evidence! I am saying i see no carcasses in pics. Do you? Would that stand up in court? I see what looks like remains of bird prep to go in food chain as wings have been removed. Could of been done anywhere by anyone. Especially this time of year and people are skint. I see no link to AI here. I Live in a control zone in Suffolk, so well up on bio security when visiting and using sites ta. Have raised, handled, killed, prepped and eaten wild birds, animals and fish for many years. I find it odd anyone would dump in a stream. Like wanted it to be found or land owner/public to know. As you all should probably know, there is a section of society who catapult, dump game and remove just heads for proof as part of betting involving £1000’s. They have few morals or care about anything or anyone. Worrying times. You may not like us, but we are extra eyes and ears in the countryside and a deterrent. Some great local groups connected/working with rural crime officers. It works.

  7. Now there was me thinking that they were, since the 2017 PR stunt, turned into pheasant casserole for the homeless (one free for every one sold offer, aka BOGOF) …. after which he claimed ambush and said he’d never speak to the BBC again ….

    This action has so much wrong with it, and are the shooting fraternity happy with the image of wasteful polluters, the phrase “shooting oneself in the foot” comes to mind. Or, are there so many in Westminster happy to prevent investigation & prosecution?

  8. I belive disposal of carcasses (noxious matter) in a controlled water would be an offence under Control of Pollution regulation?

  9. Our whole infrastructure has been dismantled by this government. I have first-hand knowledge that NE don’t have the manpower to deal with any new cases. So I suspect DEFRA is the same.

    1. According to its Annual Reports, Natural England employed 2,273 permanent and 50 temporary and/or contract staff in 2006/7 (ie before the crash).

      In 2021/22 the number of permanent staff were 2,143 with 126 temporary and/or contract staff.

      But note this: funding for Natural England increased by a whopping 66% in 2021/22, which lead to an increase in full-time equivalent staffing of 20%. This certainly lead to what the Chief Exec described as ‘growing pains’.

      The cuts imposed by the Lib Dem/Tory coalition, and maintained by Cameron and May, were largely reversed by Boris Johnson.



      Click to access natural-england-annual-report-and-accounts-2020-2021.pdf

  10. Happy New Year Ruth. We really appreciate your work, and we see that it is producing change, however resistant the Lords, shooters and farmers are.
    Keep up the efforts!

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