Wild Justice is challenging the General Licence GL26 issued by Natural England to authorise the killing of Carrion Crows to prevent serious damage to livestock. Natural England chose to include gamebirds with livestock such as lambs and piglets in this licence.
The legal status of the Pheasant is complex and in this licence it appears that Natural England have made it even more contentious.
Captive gamebirds are livestock, just like captive chickens or captive turkeys. This works in the Pheasant’s favour if it is one of the millions of day-old chicks imported from the continent to stock shooting estates in the UK, or if it is a Pheasant in a rearing facility. As livestock, then the same animal welfare provisions apply to a Pheasant as to a domestic fowl. So a Pheasant needs space, and food, and water etc. All fair enough.
When Pheasants, in their tens of millions (and Red-legged Partridges in their millions) are released into the countryside they suddenly stop being livestock and become wild birds. This is largely because it would be a bit legally tricky to chase Pheasants out of a wood (as livestock) and then shoot at them for recreational pleasure and with high crippling rates if they were still livestock. As wild birds they can be shot in the open season and as wild birds they don’t have an owner any more. This is convenient for their former owner because if his (or her) Pheasants eat your vegetables in your garden or cause a serious, maybe even fatal, road traffic accident then it’s a wild bird not someone’s livestock for which they are responsible.
So that is how I have understood the situation to be and it makes a certain amount of sense although it also seems to be a legal situation which was written specifically to protect the interests of the shooting industry.
There is one further twist; at the end of the shooting season some shoots catch up survivors from the season and take them back into captivity to form part of the breeding stock for next year’s releases. This is apparently lawful although, again, it seems like a situation designed for the benefit of the shooting industry. I can’t go around catching wild birds and taking them into captivity but with Pheasants you can, apparently.
So a lucky long-lived Pheasant can be imported or bred in captivity as livestock, be released as a wild bird and shot at, be taken back into captivity and be part of the breeding stock and then be released as a wild bird again. It’s a situation which I have come to think of as Schrodinger’s Pheasant.
But Natural England’s General Licence GL26 which seeks to authorise the lethal control of Carrion Crows to prevent serious damage to livestock muddies these waters considerably. According to the situation described above, Pheasants are either captive and livestock or released and wild birds which is a bit unusual but, as I say, makes a certain amount of sense.
General Licence GL26 seeks to extend the definition of Pheasants (and partridges) as livestock to those birds that are released, ones you may see in a field or running irritatingly around on the road in front of you, if they occasionally return to their release pens to take a peck of food before heading back into the countryside.
I cannot understand where Natural England got this idea. It appears to muddy the waters considerably and unhelpfully. It’s almost as though it were done to extend the period under which Pheasants are livestock in order to extend the crow-killing period. Why would Natural England want to do that? But I wonder whether it also has the effect of putting owners of Pheasants causing damage to others’ property, or causing road traffic accidents, in the position of being liable for the impacts of their livestock? Is that really what the shooting industry wants? And what about those Pheasants that are still going back to be fed now and again when the shooting season opens? Crippling someone’s livestock as it hurtles through the air doesn’t sound like it is legal to me?
It’s a mess, and Wild Justice challenges General Licence GL26 because it’s a mess. It seems to us to be a mess that doesn’t work for Pheasants, for Carrion Crows, for the shooting industry or for the road user or gardener.