A week tomorrow

A week tomorrow the Wild Justice judicial review of the legality of releasing tens of millions of non-native gamebirds, without ensuring that those releases will not damage sites of conservation importance, will take place.

The legal arguments are best left to lawyers but the science is open to anyone to inspect and comment upon. Here are some points:

  • around 60 million captive-bred Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges are released into the countryside each year (except, not this year) – these figures have gone up since we started this legal challenge (and are GWCT figures)
  • although Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges (RLPS) have been shot for many years the number of released birds has increased something like tenfold in the last 50 years
  • the GWCT website says ‘There are legitimate questions relating to the release of pheasants for shooting and impacts on habitats and wildlife.
  • the most clearly documented impacts of high numbers of Pheasants (and RLPs presumably, but there is far less information on them) are in terms of physical disturbance of soils, browsing of vegetation, predation on invertebrates and nutrient pollution from droppings.
  • although there are codes of practice as regards release densities of birds, these are not well-respected and often stocking densities are severalfold higher than recommended
  • Pheasant preddation on small vertebrates such as lizards and snakes is a subject of growing concern
  • lead ammunition is a well-documented environmental problem for wildlife and simply as a pollutant, and shooting at Pheasants and RLPs is the major source of lead ammunition in the countryside as the numbers shot (and those shot at but missed) outnumber all other game put together.
  • Non-native gamebirds are a potential and actual source of disease and disease transmission for native wildlife
  • dead gamebirds, squashed on the road or dying of disease, starvation, injury from non-lethal shooting and predation are likely to boost the populations of scavengers and predators with likely knock-on impacts on other prey species

There are other things, but that is quite a long list already. A recent review by Madden and Sage confirmed all of those things as potential concerns and some of them as proven impacts particularly where gamebird numbers are high. Madden and Sage said very little about the uplands (despite Pheasant numbers increasing more rapidly in the uplands than elsewhere), very little about RLPs and very little about lead ammunition.

And so we must see gamebird releases as a known ecological assault on UK wildlife, the full range of mechanisms mechanisms of which remain to be fully investigated (particularly of RLPs and of both species in the uplands), but which has grown massively in our lifetimes because the numbers of birds released has increased very greatly. All of this is essentially unregulated at the moment. Wild Justice’s challenge is that the UK is not meeting the requirements of the Habitats Directive by not addressing gamebird releases through appropriate assessment.

This challenge started in July 2019 and was refreshed in February this year due to lack of visible progress from DEFRA.

We’ll see what happens next week in court.

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11 Replies to “A week tomorrow”

  1. I think Pheasants are clearly omnivores and will take the young of vertebrates especially reptiles and amphibians such as lizards, adders, frogs and toads. This will also include the eggs and young of small ground nesting birds.

    1. Alan - exactly, and when you are dealing with around 60m released Pheasants and RLPs that is surely going to add up to an impact.

  2. I wonder if anyone has estimated the cummulative weight of shit pumped out by 60 million P and RLP? It must be a very large amount of fertiliser to contribute to the diffuse pollution problem?

    1. Cicrcus - this is certainly a matter of cgreater oncern than I had originally realised. It helps to have a few botanists involved. The amount of cereal grown and feed to gamebirds before and after release, and transferred as droppings to watercourses and fragile plant communities isa very live issue for some SSSIs etc.

  3. "although Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges (RLPS) have been shot for many years the number of released birds has increased something like tenfold in the last 50 years"

    Part of that increase can be directly attributed to diversifications within the farming community. This has even featured in TV programmes. And something encouraged by some politicians.

  4. Well, I don't personally think that Wild Justice will win this one. Not because of the weight of the argument, but as usual because of the weight of political influence. That said you just have to give credit that this is up there now - in their faces, and it won't be going away. It's just shocking that the (pheasant) shooting industry has grown into the monster it has, there were people within it who predicted that there would be trouble like this twenty plus years ago. Nobody listened, when money was at stake.

  5. The 60 million releases was one of those big revelatory moments for me - it had never occurred to me that we were releasing twice the biomass of our wild birds into the environment. And with the very high mortality rate (what other bird slows down rather than flies off when your about to run it over ?) the quantity of food being pumped into the environment the rise in generalist predators doesn't seem so surprising - and no amount of gamekeeper control is going to have any impact. I'd love Wild Justice to win but I agree that they probably won't - but that doesn't matter because the exposure of the scale and likely impacts of releases is a gamechanger in itself. Straight off it creates a wonderful circular argument around general licenses: we need a license to control the predators that are killing our pheasants - but the predators are only there in the first place because you're feeding them.

    1. I dont think it's quite that simple Roderick, but even GWCT are beginning to think there may be
      a line of inquiry worth taking.


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