Even more than you thought…

GWCT have just published a paper revising the number of released Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges released into the UK. Instead of there being roughly 50 million non-native gamebirds released into the UK countryside at this time of year, the figure has now (2016 estimates) risen to closer to 60 million (47m Pheasants and 10m Red-legged Partridges.

Wild Justice is waiting for Defra to respond to its call for an assessment of the ecological impacts of gamebird releases on UK wildlife (and has very nearly – but not quite – raised the amount of money needed to take this case through the courts).

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17 Replies to “Even more than you thought…”

  1. This is absolutely appalling - getting on for a bird for every man, woman and child in these islands. That means even more land intensively farmed to produce the feed for these birds than thought, an area that desperately needs looking at. Any chance of Wild Justice setting up a Direct Debit system, I struggle a bit with PayPal etc (ITphobe old fart) and would be happy to make a monthly contribution, but know there might be problems with setting up DD if you're still a small (but powerful) organisation. Otherwise cheque in the post as soon as I get a stamp.

  2. Three years to make available an updated number, it illustrates the need for some kind of regulatory licensing system after there's been the review of impact (or otherwise)?

  3. It would be useful to include reared Mallard in this review. I suspect a few million are being released annually. Not only does this increase the total biomass of “canned hunting” and the downstream consequences (such as potentially increasing general predators) but is also possibly impacting the genetic integrity (and therefore resilience) of wild mallard through genetic introgression. A similar problem to that caused by farmed salmon interbreeding with wild salmon and destroying their ability to navigate to their natal stream, select a mate, spawn, avoid predators etc.

  4. Mallard for heavens sake!! What kind of idiot pays to shoot 'farmed' mallard? Certainly no self-respecting wildfowler.

    1. Well Sandra, I used to watch the infamous Bert Burnett and his labrador "round up" mallard ducklings in the evening on this wee loch on the estate where we both lived..... while close by signs proclaimed "Wild Duck Shooting" which would take place later in the year.
      Kidding others on becomes a bit of an art form when in the process of extracting money from paying customers while preparing them for the more extreme forms of hypocrisy revealed in the debates around Driven Grouse Moors.

    2. Indeed; one might call it "Canned canard"; dig a pond on a pheasant shoot, feed the ducks so they're almost tame enough to be taking food out of your hand and then after a hard day's pheasant popping wait for Daffy, Donald and his mates to return to feed and blast them out of the sky.
      What great sport it makes! (Not)

    3. About 10 years ago the shoot that surrounds my place wanted something a bit different to add to the thousands of pheasants they released every year and put 500 young mallard onto a small (about 0.5 acre) pond adjacent to me. A guy came down every day with a sack of feed for them, both to help them mature and to keep them on the pond.
      It had always been an OK but not outstanding pond (partly shaded by trees), but by the time of the first shoot the water was totally opaque and it smelled like a cess pit. Fortunately the mallard immediately moved on and the shoot did not repeat the process, but the pond has never recovered.
      Most shoots are totally irresponsible - they either don't think or don't care about the consequences of their actions.

      1. The same happens where I live in East Anglia, grain is literally dumped by the side of the lake and the Mallard simply fest on it and don't move far. Whether any are released each year I don't know but the mass of birds that remain around where the grain is dumped means constant fouling of the water and they literally are "sitting ducks" come the shooting season.

        I have no objection to shooting as such, but shooting tame pheasants partridge and ducks is a far cry from proper wild fowling and there has to be significant ecological impacts from releasing such huge numbers of non native birds into the environment every year, not to mention of course the effects of the lead shot which most use.

        We urgently need to understand these impacts and there needs to be better regulation of shooting and bird releases.

  5. Interesting to compare the bag sizes for the wildfowl with the recently published British population estimates (Frost et al., 2019):
    Teal - 32% of the British population
    Gadwall - 16% of the British population
    Wigeon and Shoveler - 10% of the British population

    These are slight overestimates as the Frost et al., figures do not include NI, but the numbers in NI are very small relative to the GB populations: e.g., 5,282 Wigeon in NI (Burke et al., 2018) compared to 450,000 in the GB.

  6. What an interesting paper. 140,000 woodcock shot in a season across the UK. That's a figure much higher than I expected to be honest.

    I also notice that there are no figures given for Scaup, which is legal quarry in Northern Ireland, and is a popular target at Lough Neagh. Indeed, the estimate of 370 pochard seems low ridiculously given that this (red-listed and IUCN vulnerable) species is also a popular target at Loughs Neagh and Erne. Are the Northern Irish wildfowlers not submitting any data? I think they should be obliged to do so, given that they are shooting heavily over RAMSAR wetlands designated for their internationally important numbers of wildfowl.

    Also, I feel sure that well over 100 jack snipe are shot in a winter in Northern Ireland.

  7. For quite a few years I've been saying that the total of Pheasants and RLP released could be closer to 60 million, than the official figure of just over 40 million. I was repeatedly attacked by shooting interests for saying this. However, I was going on several factors that pointed to this.

    1) The shooting industry has been aware for quite some time that the increasing numbers of Pheasants it was releasing, was likely having an adverse impact, and it wasn't popular. So they've had a motivation to underplay the figures, and as we know only too well, they are, to use under statement, less than honest.

    2) Over the years I've seen various figures and estimates, indicating that the actual total of Pheasants released was much higher than the official figure.

    3) Direct observation. There is no doubt whatsoever, that shooting estates I'm familiar with have been releasing notably more Pheasants (and RLP for that matter). This is simply because you see much more of them. This has been consistent in different parts of the country where I've lived and visited, so it doesn't just seem to be a pattern on a few managed shoots, but most.

    Overall, the increase was noticeable, and I'd have thought it needed somewhere near 20% more to visually see that sort of difference. It probably wouldn't be so visibly more if it was just 5-10% more.

    I highly suspect that the ridiculous overreaction by the shooting industry to the Wild Justice action for an assessment, is because the shooting industry is well aware that they've been releasing considerably more Pheasants and that this is damaging, and they don't want this being established. It really does speak volumes about the fake conservation credentials of the shooting industry that they are doing this. They just don't care. It's crystal clear that the shooting industry only sees conservation as a PR issue, and they don't really care about it. It's just something for them to say to enhance their image with the public.

    PS. I also suspect that the GWCT is still playing down the actual number of birds released, given that they've switched from being a quasi-respectable organization, to an outright shooting propaganda organization.

  8. How sick is this. Easy shooting for the amateur wanting a thrill, or even something better. Breeding non native birds for a shoot is despicable. The cost of rearing, feeding and managing waste must be enormous. Just for a few sick assholes to enjoy.

  9. I live next to a farm that raises 70,000 game birds. The husbandry is good but when I see the harvest in crates transported away I despair. I understand the smell and noise is a part rural living. But it’s so sad to see it’s for profit for the few who won’t even use the game for food.

  10. Just to be clear, this is not just a paper just “revising the number of released Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges released into the UK”, it is a single author paper entitled “Fifty-year trends in UK hunting bags of birds and mammals, and calibrated estimation of national bag size, using GWCT’s National Gamebag Census” by the GWCT’s long-serving and internationally respected Deputy Director of Research Nicholas Aebischer https://www.gwct.org.uk/news/news/2017/july/top-honour-for-long-serving-gwct-scientist/

    These are the last two sentences of the abstract. “Over 50 years, large changes have taken place in the bags and numbers released of some species whereas bags of others have remained approximately constant. This work contributes to pan-European efforts seeking a rational assessment of hunting effects within a policy combining conservation and the sustainable use of wildlife, in line with national and international legislation”.

    Why do, sometimes internationally respected - as in this case, researchers choose to write, and why do journal editors choose to publish, abstracts that don’t immediately tell the reader their main findings or the conservation implications of what they have written?

    Main findings
    Why did the author choose to write and the journal editor choose to publish this abstract text “Over 50 years, large changes have taken place in the bags and numbers released of some species whereas bags of others have remained approximately constant” rather than including the headline results for the changes in bags and numbers released?

    These headline results could include:
    “Among gamebirds, the biggest increases were for pheasant and red-legged partridge: pheasant bags nearly tripled while red-legged partridge bags increased by a factor of over 25.These two species are the ones most commonly released for shooting, with release numbers increasing sevenfold and 65-fold respectively over 50 years.

    The estimated sizes of UK bags vary hugely across bird species. At 13–15 million birds shot annually over the three seasons considered, the UK pheasant bag outstrips those of all other species because of the extent of releasing (35–47 million).”

    So why did the author choose to write, and the journal editor choose to publish this abstract, as written, excluding the details of the main findings?

    Laziness, by a researcher who can’t be arsed to write a “proper” abstract? Undoubtedly not in this case.

    By design, by a researcher who doesn’t want their abstract to be easily understood and interpreted?

    By design, after an internal GWCT reviewer has chopped out key explanatory sentences so their researcher’s abstract can’t be easily understood?

    Whatever the case, journal editors really do need to tighten up on this, especially in these days of full papers being hidden behind paywalls.

    Conservation implications
    How does this work “contribute to pan-European efforts seeking a rational assessment of hunting effects within a policy combining conservation and the sustainable use of wildlife, in line with national and international legislation”?

    Short answer. It doesn’t, unless someone does something with it.
    The introduction states “In 2001, the European Commission launched an EU Sustainable Hunting Initiative, culminating in an agreement between BirdLife International and the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation, key partners of the Initiative, for hunting to continue within a well-regulated framework”.

    Ever since hopes were raised 18 years ago, we have been waiting for this European-wide well-regulated framework, which is required by national and international legislation, and which still hasn’t materialised.

    It hasn’t materialised because national and international hunting organisations have not taken the leadership role to monitor harvest and the sustainable use of populations. They are the best placed organisations and people to do this but have chosen not to.


  11. Edmund Pendrous has a petition running to ban the rearing and shooting of game birds for sport at the following link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/259501?fbclid=IwAR1ahpykkc3Z_UIk7aPgb8lJ3eTfMw-s54hvjozCMmLFfCu-jkXLPLrnZd4 which should get good support.
    What I find puzzling is that according to the current count only 843 people have signed the petition since its start in June. Wouldn't mind betting someone high up in the ivory towers of pheasant shooting is tinkering with the numbers.... or are people just on holiday?

  12. ...and, if close to 60 million of the released game-birds are being shot each year, what's the tonnage of lead being dumped onto the UK landscape in the same period...? A 12 gauge cartridge loaded with 7.5 shot contains 400 individual pellets of 2.3mm diameter, which (to the best of my knowledge) weigh around per cartridge, so with 25 per box that's ounces of lead, or 1.5 lbs... 100 x shots = 6 lbs of lead... 100 shooters, firing 100 shots = 600 pounds of lead, around a quarter of a ton ... you can work the rest out... 60,000,000 x 1 ounce!


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