18th July 2019
Wild Justice plans legal action over environmental impact of shooting industry’s release of 50m non-native birds each year.
The legality of releasing 50 million non-native pheasants and partridges into the British countryside each year is to be challenged in the courts by a new crowdfunded campaign.
The government should be forced to carry out environmental assessments of the impact of the shooting industry’s release of game birds into the wild each year, according to Wild Justice, a campaign group led by environmentalists Mark Avery, Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham.
Lawyers for Wild Justice believe that in failing to carry out such studies, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is in breach of the EU habitats directive.
Avery said: “If you were building a supermarket near a special area of conservation or other protected area, it would be assessed for its impact on protected sites. We don’t see that there is anything different in releasing 50 million non-native birds into the countryside, a number that is going up all the time.
“There is reasonable evidence that these birds could be having an impact. People forget that pheasants go around gobbling up adders, lizards and all sorts of invertebrates. All these dead pheasants [from shooting and roadkill] are feeding foxes, carrion crows and others, which go on to eat other, rarer species.
“This is a serious legal challenge and we hope to get people talking about pheasant shooting for months to come.”
The action comes after new research revealed a link between pheasant shoots and higher numbers of avian predators such as crows and buzzards. Other European countries release far fewer game birds – three million captive-reared birds are put into the Spanish countryside each year, and about 15 million in France.
Packham, a director of Wild Justice, said: “The UK’s shooting industry is one of the least regulated in Europe, with no centralised collection of any data. What is blindingly obvious to anyone with even a basic understanding of natural sciences is that dumping at least 50 million non-native birds into the UK countryside will have a profound effect on its ecology – it’s about time we measured what that effect is.”
The fact that the government doesn’t know or care how many [birds] are released will be no surprise to conservationists
Tingay, a fellow director, added: “It’s worth noting that the 50+ million figure is only a guesstimate, made by the shooting industry six years ago. For all we know there could be 100 million pheasants and red-legged partridges being let loose in the countryside every year. The fact that the government doesn’t know or care how many are released will come as no surprise to conservationists who have watched this government put vested interests ahead of wildlife conservation time and time and time again.”
Wild Justice has sent a letter notifying Defra of its intention to take action, and is now campaigning to raise £44,500 to seek a judicial review of Defra’s failure to assess the impact of releasing and shooting non-native game birds.
The move follows Wild Justice’s successful challenge to the government’s system of “general licences” that allowed people to freely shoot certain “pest species” of bird. Natural England abruptly removed the licences earlier this year after Wild Justice argued they were illegal. Since then, new temporary licences have been issued to allow more restricted killing of certain species such as carrion crows to protect livestock.