Letter to my MP – response from Defra 3

The last part of the letter I received from Defra, via my MP Andy Sawford, was as follows:

’4. Dr Avery asks about the main animal welfare concerns surrounding the rearing and release of pheasants and red-legged partridges.  It is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal or to fail to provide for its welfare needs, as required by the AWA.  In addition, the rearing of gamebirds for sporting purposes is subject to a statutory code of practice, made under the AWA, which explains what owners/keepers should do in order to meet the welfare needs of their gamebirds.  If anyone has concerns about the welfare of gamebirds on a particular farm, reared for sporting purposes, they should contact the relevant local authority, which has powers under the AWA to investigate such complaints, or the RSPCA, which will also investigate complaints of this nature.’



More bits

Photo: “Mike” Michael L. Baird via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: “Mike” Michael L. Baird
via Wikimedia Commons

  • isn’t this result on whaling absolutely fantastic (see also here, here, here)?
  • I heard my first Blackcap this spring at Stanwick Lakes on Monday – a March Blackcap
  • IPCC - we’re doomed, but not if we do something (lots, soon)
  • BGBW results
  • I was distracted a few times in a meeting the other day by a high-flying male Brimstone whizzzzing past the window
  • some nice positive feedback from the talk I gave on Saturday (here)
  • I’m hoping to see a Hen Harrier tomorrow…
  • I was impressed that one of my MEPs, Bill Newton Dunn, contacted me about vultures and diclofenac


Photo:AnemoneProjectors via wikimedia commons

Photo:AnemoneProjectors via wikimedia commons

I’m not very good on flowers – but I know what I like.

I like the spring and I have noticed, at least I think I have noticed, that there are lots of yellow flowers around at this time of year. As well as the daffodils and primroses, there are aconites and celandines, and I have seen my first coltsfoot, marsh marigold and cowslips.

Why so much yellow?  Tell me that! I’m just a poor bird guy, after all.

Photo: Andy Rogers via wikimedia commons

Photo: Andy Rogers via wikimedia commons


A new month

Since it is a new month I have decided to turn over a new leaf.

From now on I will:

  • take up game shooting
  • vote Conservative
  • enjoy Flat racing more than National Hunt racing
  • give up going to Stanwick Lakes
  • take up botany
  • give up birding
  • stop being vegetarian four days a week
  • give up writing
  • promote the use of lead ammunition
  • prefer Beaujolais to Bordeaux
  • like sultanas added to apple pies and crumbles
  • prefer Birdwatching to Birdwatch
  • prefer the NT to the RSPB

…I will.  Well, maybe until midday.

via wikimedia commons

via wikimedia commons


Letter to my MP – response from Defra 2

Following this morning’s blog

I also asked:

2. What are the economic costs of road traffic accidents caused by Pheasants?

and here is Defra’s reply:

’2. Defra does not currently hold information relating to the economic costs of road traffic accidents caused by pheasants or red-legged partridge and is not aware that such information is recorded by government.’

Fair enough. But that, of course, is not to say that there are no accidents and there is no cost.  So how, again, did Defra decide to say that ‘The overall environmental and economic impact of game bird shooting is therefore a positive one…’. So that includes the road accidents that haven’t been costed or included does it?  Obviously not. How much would you assess a single road fatality to be ‘worth’ in economic terms? No, it’s not a very tasteful question but it clearly is relevant to assessing the costs and benefits of releasing 45 million pheasants into the UK each year given that such accidents do occur and simple damaging road accidents are quite common (see here, here, here).


and I asked:

3. How many Pheasant poults are imported into England each year from the continent and what regulations govern their transport?  What are the implications of importing live pheasant poults for the transmission of avian diseases into the UK?

Defra’s response sets out the following figures for the UK:

Alectoris [ie red-legged partridges, but could include some other species too](from EU): 1,872,948

Phasianus [ie pheasants](from EU): 5,075,125

Phasianus (from outside EU): 12,600

Galliformes [ie not recorded which gamebird it was](from EU): 989,134

Galliformes (from outside EU): 6,331

The Defra response goes on: ‘The regulations that govern the transport of game birds are Council Directive 2009/158/EC and Commission Decision 2006/605/EC.

With regard to the implications of importing live pheasant poults for the transmission of avian diseases into the UK, the avian notifiable diseases are avian influenza caused by H5 or H7 virus subtypes and Newcastle Disease (ND)(infection with highly virulent paramyxovirus). Pheasants are not generally considered a risk of transmission of avian influenza: these viruses are usually found in wildfowl and it is contact with wild or farmed ducks, geese etc that is high risk. However, pheasants and other game birds can carry paramyxovirus, which may be highly virulent and therefore lead to outbreaks of ND. This has happened before in 2006 in Scotland in grey partridges and in 2005 in England in pheasants. However, vaccination against ND is available for poultry and gamebirds.’

Nigh on eight million birds are imported into the UK each year for shooting.  That’s a lot isn’t it?  Did you realise that?  I didn’t – the figure quite surprised me.

I wonder what the carbon, welfare and disease implications of all that are?

Eight million! Did you know that?


Letter to my MP – response from Defra 1

Back in January I wrote to my (excellent) MP, Andy Sawford, and asked him to write to Defra on my behalf on the subject of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges.  I’ve recently received a reply from Defra via Andy Sawford.

My first question to Defra was: ‘What research has been done that addresses the range of ecological costs and benefits of rearing and releasing Pheasants for shooting? Does native wildlife benefit or is it harmed by Pheasant shooting? Does Defra have plans to do any such research?

Defra’s answer: ‘Defra has not assessed the impact of releasing pheasants or red-legged partridges on biodiversity and is not currently planning any research in this area due to other biodiversity research priorities.‘  The response continues (see below) but I just want to deal with this first.

That’s interesting isn’t it? It’s fair enough that Defra says, here, that it doesn’t know and doesn’t really care about this issue but in Defra’s awful response to John Armitage’s e-petition they state that ‘The overall environmental and economic impact of game bird shooting is therefore a positive one…’.  Hang on! Here Defra states that they have not assessed the impact of releasing pheasants and red-legged partridges on biodiversity.  So the previous statement was based on…? Blind prejudice perhaps?  Maybe wishful thinking?  Maybe both, but it appears not, as far as we can tell, to be based on any data at all.  This is very poor.

This is not science-based policy -making; it’s not even policy-based science; it’s relying on myth, hearsay and prejudice.

It’s also pretty poor that Defra civil servants can’t spot the fact that their Ministers have made contradictory statements in the same week. What is happening inside Defra these days?

The response goes on: ‘It is estimated that pheasants have been present in the UK for at least 400 years, and possibly as long as 1000 years, following introduction by humans for the purposes of sport and sustenance.  Management of game birds and the habitats they occupy can create benefits for farmland birds and other wildlife through the provision of food, shelter and nesting sites. Woodlands used for gamebird rearing also tend to have a more open aspect, which can benefit other woodland species such as ground flora, birds and invertebrates. It has been estimated by the industry that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide benefits for conservation.

Research carried out for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) in 2006 shows that the management of land for the purposes of shooting increases biodiversity. Two key findings were that ‘shooting is involved in the management of two-thirds of the rural land area‘. and ‘two million hectares are actively managed for conservation as a result of shooting‘. This same report estimated that the game shooting industry contributes approximately £1.6 billion to the UK economy. BASC is currently involved in updating this research with new data.

Certain species of animals and birds may have declined in the last 50 years, but there are many reasons for this including changes to farming practices, weather and habitat loss, which in most cases are likely to be greater factors then the impacts caused by the release of a single species such as the pheasant. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s document Guidelines for sustainable gamebird releasing has been published to inform game keepers of good practice to ensure any potential impacts on local biodiversity are minimised.’

Animals and birds – duhhh!? May have declined – duhhh!?

It appears that the game industry is the main source of information for Defra’s pronouncements these days.  That tells us a lot. What is the Defra Chief Scientist doing to ensure that Defra talks some sense on ecological matters – not enough it seems?  It’s probably quite a hard job, I must admit.

‘Research carried out by BASC’ is being ‘updated’ – we’ll come back to that too. And we haven’t even got to questions 2-4 in my original letter yet.


Oscar Dewhurst – White Stork

France August 2013-Somme_0046-White-Stork

Oscar writes: in France, I saw a group of White Storks by the side of the road. They were too far away for frame fillers, so instead I tried to show them in their environment.
Nikon D300s, Nikon 600mm AFS-II, Nikon 1.4x TC


Mark writes: in some parts of Europe the return of the White Stork is what signifies that spring really has arrived.  There are a few (dodgy?) very old breeding records for the UK, but wouldn’t it be amazing if they arrived in this country and started nesting on roofs in Kent and Sussex?


Busy day

Yesterday was a busy day in a busy week. A consequence of giving a talk to the Hampshire Ornithological Society on 29 March is that, if you are me, over 300 people sing Happy Birthday! to you – which was highly embarrassing and very sweet of them.

I had stayed with friends and I took my slightly fuzzy head (up late talking, with a glass in hand), and the rest of me, off to north Hampshire, in bright sunshine, to meet a landowner who is doing wonderful work for nature on his land.  Chiffchaffs were singing and Brimstones were along the hedges as I arrived.  I spent a couple of hours in his company, talking about politics, where we agreed to differ, and about wildlife, where we were very much on the same wavelength.  Two large plots had been prepared for nesting Lapwings and Stone Curlews and I was hoping to see the latter.  But as we looked for the Stone Curlews we saw Red Kites and Buzzards, talked about legal predator control, touched on lead ammunition, saw Hares, talked of butterfly reintroductions, moaned about ‘modern’ farming and mentioned a few mutual acquaintances.  And throughout there were Lapwings tumbling and ‘peewitting’ in numbers that I can’t remember seeing (or hearing) for years except on nature reserves.  More of the countryside used to be like this.

A pair of Stone Curlews did put in an appearance which was wonderful.  They were a bit elusive but we saw them a couple of times and heard their Curlew-like call.  Later in the day I listened to Charlotte Bruce-White talk about the successful work of the RSPB with landowners greatly to the numbers of this declining bird – a success story.  And founded on a mixture of excellent RSPB science, enthusiastic landowners, RSPB investment for many, many years and funding from you and me through grants that encourage the right practices.

We also heard at the HOS Open Day in Winchester, from Keith Betton, about the return of Peregrines to nest in this part of the world.  Another success story.

And we must remember and celebrate those successes but at the same time realise that they are islands set in a sea of decline. I was surprised to hear that, as far as we know, Tree Sparrows no longer nest in Hampshire.  How amazing and how sad!

Chris Packham is the President of the HOS and I always enjoy hearing him talk about nature.  He was excellent again – not only when he said nice things about me and Fighting for Birds, but when he talked about heading off to Malta with a film crew, about being in Ghana recently, about how dolphins have names, about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly and much else – oh, he mentioned badgers, too.

I don’t know Chris that well but he inspires me each time I do see him.  And I don’t agree with him 100% about everything, but the overlap of what we care about is so large that small differences in the chosen means to achieving our aims really don’t matter.

My talk went pretty well – it got laughs in the right places and stimulated lots of excellent questions.  I hope that the audience will now be set on a course of writing to their MPs about nature.  Funnily enough, when I returned home I had a letter from my MP – more of that next week.

The world is a fascinatingly connected place.  In the HOS audience there were birders whom I’ve met before over the years, people who introduced themselves as readers of this blog whom I had never previously met, former RSPB colleagues whom I might have expected to be in that audience and another former colleague who I would never have guessed would be present.

Those 300+ of us in a lecture theatre in Winchester University yesterday afternoon are connected with the rest of the world in so many ways; through our friendships, through our workplaces, through our spending power, through our voting and through social media.  I wonder, if we had stayed together for a week and hatched a plan, how much we could do for wildlife over the next year through making our voices heard?



Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill



Winged Wonders

Intro - Animals are a very important part of our ecosystem, and many of them are undevalues due to lack of education and understanding. This can certainly be said for our vast populations of bats, and the folks at Thomson Ecology have come up with a new and intriguing infographic all about these fascinating creatures. It covers a whole range of topics from their anatomy and skill sets to their numbers across the globe and their place in our current climate. Did you know, for example, that bat dropping were used in the American Civil War? And that bats aren’t at all blind, and some can see just as well as us humans? All this and more for you to read and enjoy.

thom eco march 2014


Bio – Thomson Ecology are ecological, biological and environmental experts who specialise in the welfare of local creatures in industrial areas. They’ve taught many businesses how to take care of their local animals and what they can do to prevent further issues.
Mark writes - This blog does not endorse Thomson Ecology but thought that their infographic was worth a wider airing. Thomson Ecology have not paid anything for this exposure.