Guest Blog – There is nothing Green about these Country ‘Sports’ by Caroline Allen of the Green Party

Caroline Allen cropCaroline Allen is a practising vet and the Green Party Spokesperson on Animals as well as Co-Chair of London Green Party. Caroline has worked on many animal-protection issues, most recently campaigning against the badger cull, expansion of factory farming and the overuse of antibiotics in animal farming.

Shooting birds such as grouse and pheasants is portrayed by its supporters as a wholesome country activity, in tune with nature. The dead birds are then sold to a growing market as ethical, free-range and healthy. In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth.

From environmental degradation and a devastating impact on local wildlife, including protected birds of prey, to severe welfare issues, this is an industry based on lies and misinformation.

The issue of shooting grouse has gained a high profile recently with the launch of a petition to ban driven shooting, which has already gained more than 18,000 signatures [1]. The Government’s response thus far has been very weak, which is no surprise given the millionaire landowners in their ranks and amongst their supporters.

The Green Party is clear on this subject: we support a complete ban on grouse shooting. Our policy states that we oppose the killing of, and the infliction of pain and suffering on, animals in the name of sport or leisure and will work to end all such practices. On a recent visit to Ilkley, Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, offered her support to the Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor campaign, which has also had strong support from local Green Party campaigners. In addition we value and work to protect our precious natural environment and wildlife. It is clear that this industry is in complete opposition to these aims.

Wildlife is in great danger anywhere near a commercial shoot. The legally protected hen harrier has been driven to the brink of extinction by grouse-shooting interests, with only two pairs nesting in 2013. This Government has shown scant regard for the legal protection afforded to birds of prey: last year the Government agency Natural England issued licences to allow the destruction of the eggs and nests of buzzards to protect a pheasant shoot. This is also a Government that chose a millionaire landowner, whose family estate runs shoots, as Wildlife Minister, the same minister who in 2012 refused to ban carbofuran, a deadly poison used to kill raptors, which prompted the Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, to state: “The minister’s shocking refusal to outlaw the possession of a poison used only by rogue gamekeepers to kill birds of prey illegally would be inexplicable were it not for his own cosy links to the shooting lobby.”

And it is not just birds of prey that are targeted: any wildlife seen as predators are fair game, with gamekeepers using snares, traps and poisons to kill tens of thousands of animals each week[2], including protected species such as badgers and otters. Even domestic pets have been caught up in the carnage. Snares are heavily used by gamekeepers; they are horribly indiscriminate and cause significant suffering [3].

The Green Party is calling for an immediate ban on the use of snares.

The local ecosystem is also damaged, rather than protected, by the presence of shoots.

In the case of grouse shooting, gamekeepers burn the heather on these important moorland habitats in order to promote new growth for the chicks to feed on. The Ember Report (Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River Basins) showed that burning heather is much more damaging than previously thought[4].

The reports showed how burning heather dries out and warms up the peat it grows in, causing it to disintegrate and release large amounts of carbon dioxide. Peat is a vital carbon sink and the release of carbon dioxide has a significant impact on climate change.

The burning also has profound effects on the water table, including an increase in the release of pollutants such as toxic heavy metals into rivers, a reduction in the number and diversity of insects in rivers draining from burned areas and an increased risk of flooding.

In addition to the effect on local wildlife and habitats there are severe welfare issues for pheasants and partridges reared for commercial shoots. (Grouse are not reared in this way.) Of course there is also a welfare impact on the birds that are blasted from the sky, some of which are not killed outright, especially if shot by inexperienced shooters, and all of which suffer severe pain and stress[5].

While people are used to seeing the adult birds flying in fields the reality is that the rearing process is more comparable to the factory-farming of poultry.

In 2008 the respected Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) reported on the welfare of game birds and found a number of serious problems associated with the intensification of the industry[6]. Although Defra codes of practice have subsequently been introduced they were watered down significantly following lobbying by the Countryside Alliance and the Game Farmers’ Association with the result that the ban on battery cages used for rearing pheasants was reversed. When discussing cages the FAWC said that the “design appeared to be influenced more by cost and manufacturing requirements than the birds’ welfare”. A significant number of pheasants and most partridges are sourced from overseas, with the primary determinant being price. Unsurprisingly the welfare of the breeding birds does not seem to be a major concern.

Just as in the egg-laying industry the birds do not respond well to living at a high density and as a result develop stereotypical behaviour such as feather plucking and even cannibalism. And just as in that industry, rather than the conditions being improved and the stress reduced the birds are further abused either by beak trimming or more often by the use of devices such as bits (a device fitted to the jaw to ensure it doesn’t close properly) and spectacles (blinker-type devices that clip to the nostrils, reducing the range of vision to minimize the effects of aggression). The Green Party does not believe that these measures are an appropriate response to stressed animals in any situation: it is the way in which animals are kept that is the problem and must be changed.

The Green Party is opposed to factory farming. The breeding and rearing of game birds is clearly analogous to factory farming and the same rules must apply. Currently whilst the 2006 Animal Welfare Act applies to these enterprises other important EU and UK legislation does not[7].

Far from being organic, like any animals kept at high stocking density they often need medication. Infectious diseases such as parasitic and bacterial infections[8] are an issue and blanket in-feed medications, including antibiotics and antiparasite treatments, are used, just as in intensive poultry farming.

It is clear that this industry is not only damaging the environment, harming wildlife and millions of birds, it is also conning people. Only the Green Party will stand up to the landowners who are causing this damage while falsely claiming to be protecting our vital natural heritage.

1. Ban driven grouse shooting petition.
2. Tapper, S.C. 1992. Game Heritage: An Ecological Review from Shooting and Gamekeeping Records. Game Conservancy Trust. Fordingbridge
3. Defra Report of the Independent Working Group on Snares. August 2005.
4. Brown, L. E, Holden, J. and Palmer, S. M. (2014) Effects of moorland burning on the ecohydrology of river basins. Key findings from the EMBER project. University of Leeds
5. Medway, Lord (Chairman) 1980. Report of the Panel of Enquiry into Shooting & Angling (1976-1979). Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Horsham
6. FAWC Opinion on the Welfare of Farmed Gamebirds November 2008
7. Veterinary Record 2010; 166:376 doi:10.1136/vr.c1651.
8. Common Disease of Game Birds in Great Britain AHVLA, September 2014.

Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive


30 Replies to “Guest Blog – There is nothing Green about these Country ‘Sports’ by Caroline Allen of the Green Party”

  1. Excellent post, Caroline. Greens have secured my vote for the first time. This simply has to end.

    1. A totally biased and incorrect article as expected. Without the moorland management paid for by shooting there will soon be no grouse.
      Hen Harriers are never going to be common on the extreme edge of their natural range.

  2. Well done the Green Party. Whilst the others actively condone or at best provarogate for the sake of not wanting to alienate “the countryside” vote – the “greens” have one again shown true principled leadership (in this and many other matters). Undoubtedly now the natural home of UK “watermelons” . Again, well done.

  3. If only this was the Labour party speaking!! I wonder if it is the House of Lords which is holding back the Labour party from speaking out or scarred of the rich in this country!

  4. Thank you for all this information .i was completely unaware of most of this and sheds another way of thinking of the gentry who promote this at the detriment of welfare of the birds and the Eco system.

  5. What a brilliant post! Clear, well researched and free of the usual weasel words that most politicians can’t live without.

  6. Until the Green Party (somehow?!) manages to persuade mainstream media that their (attractive?) policies are of real interest to the voting public (more so than the (less attractive) click bait UKIP stuff for example) then old voting habits will continue and despite the potential of the Green way, nothing will change.

  7. Fantastic post. You have my vote. I often wondered where they could possibly get all of these eggs for breeding game birds. I wonder if any of these imported birds come from China .

  8. This is not entirely correct, and runs the risk of throwing babies out with bathwater. I am sure that some of the abuses Caroline lists do exist, but there are many other shoots and estates where they don’t. I can show you two very well known estates locally where management for game has resulted in a successful environment for songbirds and other bird life. Comparison with other local ‘non keepered’ areas shows a contrast. This does involve predator control, but I believe that even the RSPB has had to control foxes and gulls on certain of its reserves, for similar reasons.

    I have commented to Mark before that I believe that licensing grouse moors is the best way to preserve the best practices and to outlaw the rest. It’s a topic on which we differ, but I think that the same procedures could be extended to partridge and pheasant shoots as well. Some control is clearly necessary and licensing would be a practical way of achieving this.

    Oh well, head above parapet once again!

    1. David, how would licensing work? Who would police it? It’s illegal to kill Birds of Prey now and nothing is done. I’m sure there are good land managers, you can thank the bad ones for the current state of affairs. If you know any of the bad ones speak out and let’s hear some names, then people may start to listen to what you say.

  9. Useful information from a vet about dubious management practices in the gamebird industry. To be balanced , not all local shoots are bad; often they do enhance wildlife potential. It’s the industrial scale shoots that are a real blight on the landscape.

    1. Any killing of animals for kicks is disgusting! I have found animals in snares near such shoots and it is the most barbaric cruelty.

  10. Great blog and so right, The Tories so earnestly say they are a party of all the people but under the surface they are still vigorously defending their own sectional interests and nasty “sports”. I’m another green voter for next May.

  11. You’ve convinced me. The apologists of grouse shooting seem to consistently fob us all off with bullshit. It just insults us that they think we might actually be taken in by it. I’ll be voting Green if there is a candidate in my constituency.

  12. At last someone writing about an issue of grave environmental consequences. I would go further and curtail the activities of large commercial pheasant / partridge shoots which have a significant effect on the environment. I live in a valley where up to 500,000 (large omnivorous) birds are annually released into the environment – the destruction they cause is huge and negative. For example we have lost our adder and sloe worm population in the past decade. One estate can no longer run a breeding program for its birds – disease on the estate is rampant. In turn many birds are not put into the food supply chain – they are burnt / buried – in sum deposed of. The people who shot these birds have little to do with the country – they are typically moneyed elite (Tory party voters?) from London. Commercial shoots should be outlawed.

    1. JT – I think you have raised a very important point. I think for years we have failed to appreciate the damage done to a wide range of taxa of conservation concern – invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles and, not least, birds – by the massive scale of the release of captive-reared pheasants and red-legged partridges by commercial shoots. Well done for speaking out on this important ‘elephant in the room’.

  13. Caroline is preaching to the choir here and most people are not even in the same building. When the moment comes to place their “X” I can’t see green issues counting for much with the majority of voters. Doug Mack D has it right.

    Why, also , would anyone want to be associated, even in the privacy of their own head, with such environmental experts as Vivienne Westwood or Marcus Brigstocke?

    1. filbert cobb – the choir appears to be growing and the competing choirs are mostly shrinking. These are interesting times.

      Why, also, would they want to be associated with such environmental experts as George Osborne, Liz Truss or Owen Paterson?

  14. Re. Hen Harriers – “only two pairs nesting in 2013” – am I right in thinking that’s the figure England rather than the UK as a whole?

  15. No country needs an industry of death based on killing animals for sport and no conservation group should give any support to such. I am very impressed with the Green approach. If only the Labour party would stop its support of shooting!!

  16. We live in a small valley in the South Downs. 5 years ago a large commercial shoot opened on our boundary without any warning. They release thousands of pheasants and partridges which damage the grapes in our vineyard but also predate on wildlife including Slow Worms, butterfly larva, small lizards etc. This is in a National Park but the authorities don not seem to be interested.
    They have recently applied for retrospective planning for change of use to continue game rearing on a local farm and there have been over 25 passionate objections. But I don’t think it will alter anything.
    We would like to conduct a survey on the impact of the game birds on the ecology of the area. Have you any advice?

  17. An excellent article. Every abuse written here is prevalent now in the Trough of Bowland, one very powerful, immensely rich estate has decimated the wild life of the area.

Comments are closed.