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.