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?


27 Replies to “Letter to my MP – response from Defra 2”

  1. Defra is morphing back into MAFF – just as the Countryside Commission agenda went missing when NE was formed and forestry and nature conservation would have done too, had the triennial review got away with merging FC into NE, or NE into EA. ‘Environment’ as in ‘The Department of Environment’ is quietly slipping away, just when we need it most and just when yet more intensive farming looks like an increasingly dangerous idea.

    1. Totally agree. The removal of specialist lead bodies is happening…
      It is having an impact but the impact is not being reported or recorded. LINK needs to take the lead and shine a light on this unwelcome change.

  2. According to discussion on the Jeremy Vine prog. on Radio 2 the other week a road fatality is costed at £1.9 million, figures also given for serious accident and lesser events. That must offset a fair bit of sport shooting’s economic benefit!

  3. Mark,

    You asked Defra for the economics costs arising from Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) caused by Pheasants and Defra responded stating that as far as they know, such information is not recorded by Government. Strictly speaking, this is [probably] true but there are statistics (or is it data?) that in combination with cross-referencing with other reliable sources can start to come up with a figure that is at least a starting point.

    The Department for Transport (DfT) compiles data on such matters and the latest (I could quickly find) is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/9275/rrcgb2011-02.pdf

    Given the diversity of academic research, I thought it would be highly probable that someone, somewhere, has got a handle on the number of RTAs caused by animals, if not birds. And as it happens, a PhD student from Sweden has provided some data. Andreas Seiler (http://pub.epsilon.slu.se/388/1/Silvestria295.pdf) states that:

    “In most European countries, animal-vehicle collisions are believed to make
    up only a small proportion of the total number of traffic accidents. In The
    Netherlands, for example, only 0.3% (29 out of 11,124) reported accidents
    involving personal injury or death were due to animals”

    Based on the Office for National Statistics 2012 Road Casualties data (see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/245383/rrcgb2012-00.pdf), a total of 195,723 road casualties (all severities) were recorded in 2012.

    [WARNING: Assumption alert!] Assuming that of the 0.3 % of RTAs caused by animals in the Netherlands is more or less the same in the UK and about 1 in a hundred (i.e. 1% of these are caused by pheasants: 0.003 % of RTAs), based on the 2012 data, there were approximately 587 human casualties (all severities) caused by pheasants in 2012.

    In 2012, approximately 0.9 % of the 195,723 road casualties were fatal. If this was evenly spread across all incidents (I know, unlikely) then this would mean that about 5 people a year are killed on the roads by pheasants. Five people too many.

    Referring back to the economic cost of RTAs, according to the UK Government, the cost of a single fatality is around £1.68 million. So based on my 5 deaths a year, this equates to £8.4 million pounds caused by pheasants.

    The vast majority of road incidents are minor (170,930 casualties or 87 %) and based on the figure of 587 incidents involving pheasant, about 512 would fall in to this category. Again, based on the economic cost of RTAs, according to the UK Government, the cost of a slight injury is £14,611 or damage only is £2,027. So this could range between £1 million and £7.5 million!

    So the cost per annum taking in to account all that I have considered above is between £9.4 million and £15.9 million (average = £12.7 million).

    Now, I want to make it clear that my major assumption here (1 in a hundred animal collisions causing accidents are pheasant) has been plucked (pardon the pun) from the ‘air’ so to speak but even if it is 1 in a 1000, that is still between £0.9 million and £1.6 million/ annum.

    I would hope that this response stimulates some constructive critiscism and reasoned debate; I know that the above can be picked apart but I offer it as starting point.


    1. Richard – wonderful attempt. Thank you so much. I feel rather lazy and hopeless for not having done something similar myself.

      Well, world – what do you think?

      1. Probably no more assumptions in that than in the shooting industry figures obligingly taken at face value by DEFRA.

    2. It may not be as flawed as you think Richard. The big issue with accident sources is that as soon as anyone starts looking at any particular area, then there has to be a more structured survey. I am not saying that RTAs and gamebirds has been swept under the carpet or even ignored but it is a man-made problem and thus, technically avoidable. For all those who are putting dislikes against posts on this thread, it would be useful if you came up with a structured response. When considering fatalities or serious injury it is not really useful to say the problem is relatively minor or that another given cause of accidents is much more important. I doubt I would have been so measured when talking about this had my sister been killed in the incident related below.

  4. I have lost count of the times pheasant collisions have damaged vehicles I have been in. The most expensive involved a replacement radiator and headlight. I even witnessed one flying into a motorcyclist, dismounting him and causing what could have been a very serious accident. Luckily the rider was relatively unscathed.
    I suppose if one beleives the broken window fallacy, these extra expenses are a net benefit.

    1. A good point Adam, my sister was nearly killed when she was hit from the side by a pheasant whilst riding as a pillion passenger. She suffered mild concussion and was lucky that she managed to stay on the m/c but as you say, the consequences of a rider being struck at speed are horrific to contemplate.

      It would be difficult to quantify just how many incidents there are but pheasant behaviour at this time of the year means that less dominant cocks are escaping territorial males. This must inevitably be the greatest where the birds have been stocked at levels beyond what would be seen in wild populations over their true range.

  5. Perhaps those releasing the birds should be responsible for the damage they cause? Just a thought!

    1. Adam, are you suggesting each individual bird released should be individually tagged so its origin can be traced? Sounds fair to me. It should be done with all released mammals and birds then we’d have traceability for all those cats and pheasants as well as the dogs. Perhaps we could get the EU in on it too!

  6. AdamM & all

    Section 2 of the Animals Act 1971 is relevant though it is seemingly very difficult to prove. Assuming you could prove who the pheasant belonged to, all subsections would have to be proven too. Tough ask!


  7. With regard to your question regarding specifically human injury accidents involving pheasants, as part of some of my earlier research (2003-2005) I did into deer-related accidents I did also gather some information on such accidents with pheasants across a sample of 14 different counties in England (making up c. 1/3 of land area of England between them). A summary of the numbers of accidents identified in which different animal types were involved in collisions that led to either slight, serious or fatal human casualties over the 5 years 1999-2003 is provided in Table 7 (at end of study report ) . In brief , based on these data (extrapolated to England as a whole but per single year) I estimate that at that time there were on average 65 Road traffic collisions involving pheasants in England per year that led to human injury accidents. Using the DfT standard economic costing of ‘value of prevention of human injury road accidents’ (that range at 2009 values from 1.75 million for a fatal, £200K for a serious, and c.20K for a slight casualty; or using recommended average value as 68K across all severities) those est. 65 human injury accidents would be valued at around 4.45 Million per annum (excluding the considerably larger but unknown numbers of accidents that will cause only material damage to vehicles).

  8. Perhaps it is also time to consider the 356 peer-reviewed conservation science papers published by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust on pheasants and partridges:

    218 – Partridge http://www.gwct.org.uk/research/scientific-publications/?page=6&qty=40&keywords=partridge
    138 – Pheasants http://www.gwct.org.uk/research/scientific-publications/?keywords=pheasants&qty=10

    Probably the reason why Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, is full of praise for the work of shoots and of gamekeepers and readily agrees the need to work together for the benefit of the UK’s beleaguered wildlife.

    1. Andrew – let us consider those “peer-reviewed conservation science papers”.

      Firstly, they’re not all peer-reviewed. There may be 356 “Scientific publications” on the links you gave, but many of these are just books (not peer-reviewed scientific journal articles) or simply proceedings from conferences from such august bodies as the International Union of Game Biologists. Hmm.

      Secondly, few of them deal explicitly with conservation science as far as I can see, except to the extent of re-establishing grey partridge populations for the purpose of, er, shooting them.

      I did see quite a few papers dealing with disease in red partridges, but I couldn’t see a peer-reviewed article on either list that dealt with the full breadth of environmental impacts stemming from vast numbers of these alien bird introductions on an annual basis (e.g. analysis of potential predation of native inverts/reptiles etc, competitive exclusion of native birdlife/ potential artificial inflation of rats (feeding on grain bins) / foxes (feeding on poults) / corvids (feeding on road kill) or indeed population suppression of raptors / mustelids etc. (by gamekeepers). Perhaps you can point me towards it?

      I’d also be interested to read some of Martin Harper’s effusive praise for the work of shoots and of gamekeepers.

  9. If some goes to all the trouble of rearing a pheasant, I assume for the table, then why release them at all! Let’s be honest here; it would be simpler to go out to the pens and ring it’s neck, and as an added bonus there would be no lead shot in it!
    I hope I haven’t missed the point here?

    1. Good point.

      I never understood the point of people learning to rock climb – I have yet to find a rock face that I could not just walk around for a fraction of the effort and certainly less risk.

      As ever, there is always more to these things. If you want to find out more about motivations best to go out and ask them.

    1. Martin – no the number of released birds is much higher – over 50 million of these two species, so your shock and amazement have to be even higher! 8 million is simply the number imported.

  10. Not so much imported as raised Mark and this has its own environmental implications. How much energy does it require to raise eight million pheasants from egg to poult?

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