Wild Justice gets DEFRA to regulate gamebird releases

Seven week old pheasant chicks after just being released into a gamekeepers release pen on an English shooting estate

DEFRA has announced that it will license gamebird releases on or near protected wildlife sites – see Wild Justice statement here.

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25 Replies to “Wild Justice gets DEFRA to regulate gamebird releases”

  1. Congratulations ! What a win ! In effect, shooting is now regulated - not just the specific license but the general license, too, will have to conform to legal standards.

  2. Enormous congratulations to Wild Justice and the legal team. At last Defra has offered to do something for wild life instead of supporting the shooters all the time, however this will be only be because of the action from Wild Justice. Without the threat of that Defra would have done absolutely nothing. A great victory but it is just the first baffle and there will be more to come. The key point is to make sure Defra do their job properly. They need to commission truly independent people to carry out any assessments and not a shooting organisation as they did recently using BASC.
    Congratulations to one and all, now to watch Defra like a hawk to make sure they don’t back slide as they will no doubt try to do.

  3. Brilliant news, well done WJ.
    Just thinking about the conclusion that "there are minimal or no effects beyond 500m from the point of release". Only given it a few seconds thought but one or two points spring to mind. The increase in ground and avian predators which travel more than 500m?! Nitrate in rivers and streams adjacent to release pens travelling more than 500m?!
    Also, what about when release pens are so densely spaced out across many small local woods, often only a mile or two apart, like across the whole of the North York Moors valleys. All those 500m each way from a release pen all add up to many many miles and tens of thousands of acres!

    1. On reflection, this may yet turn out to be half a birthday present. Perhaps not as significant as I may have hoped.

      (Reflecting on Mark's half full, half empty, short changed).

      The big win is that the legal arguments caused DEFRA to retreat before the case was heard. Are they recompensing legal costs (and, yes these exist prior to a day in court)?

  4. Many many congratulations to the three of you and your legal team.
    The best part about this news is that DEFRA and NE not only know that you are watching, but now know that you can win.
    Thank you to you all.

  5. Well done, many congratulations. Wild Justice's bravery rewarded. Perhaps a step to licences for all releases. Hoping so. The principle is established at least, and under a 'huntin-shootin-fishing' goverment!

  6. What have you actual won, did you not want 5km not 500m and then
    “The intention is that where shoots cannot meet the conditions of the general licence, they will have the option to apply to NE for an individual, bespoke licence, a process which enables the impacts on the specific protected sites in question to be considered.“
    Devil will be in the detail.

    1. john - Devil is always in detail but in this case DEFRA knows that they need to get the details right to avoid further legal action. And we won this one.

      What have we achieved? Gamebirds being put on Schedule 9, licensing brought in, and a big increase in role for Natural England to do one of the things they ought to be doing - checking SSSIs. Also a review of the evidence which confirms much of what we said and does no rule out any of the impacts we alleged. And a much greater public focus on gamebird releases. And it seems that the shooting vested interests are pretty annyed so they must realise that Wild Justice has done all this - remember BASC, with its 7-figure fighting fund has achieved nothing, Nothing at all. Nothing whatsover.

      1. Indeed but how significant a win will it be it is claimed there are only 275 SPA’s and 656 SAC’s in the UK and many are coastal or off shore sites, in fact quite a lot of them, then 500m is really not an issue for a shoot to comply with.
        Still great PR win.

          1. From what I can gather, pheasant releases have just been banned from within many areas of our national parks and within 500m of sssi sires.
            Is this correct?

      2. "remember BASC, with its 7-figure fighting fund has achieved nothing, Nothing at all. Nothing whatsover."

        I'm thinking they haven't yet touched that fund. It is sitting there, calculating.

        Costs were reclaimed in this skirmish?

        1. tuwit - well they must have been racking up quite a lot of expense with lawyers on this case, let alone staff time.

  7. First of all a big congratulations to Mark and Wild Justice. However, having read the Defra statement and "Ecological Consequences of Gamebird Releasing and Management on Lowland Shoots in England(NEER016) - A Review by Rapid Evidence Assessment for Natural England and the British Association of Shooting and Conservation - Madden and Sage (2020), Defra's assessment on which their decision is based, I have serious worries about how this will be implemented.

    Firstly, Defra come to the bizarre conclusion "that there are minimal or no effects beyond 500m from the point of release". I could give detailed observations, including a photograph of a dead Adder, which looks like it was killed by a Pheasant, well over 500m from a release point on the edge of an NNR. I could take anyone to this point and you can at times see upwards of 10 Pheasants in the open in this area. There is a lot of cover in this are so there are many more Pheasants there than can be seen. I can give many specific instances of considerable numbers of Pheasants, over 2 miles from release points.

    Secondly, this Natural England report makes minimal observations of the impacts of Pheasants on reptiles, which I believe to be considerable. This report makes limited references, purely on a paper written by Nigel Hand a leading Adder ecologist, who wrote a blog entry on hear about Adders and Pheasants. I have discussed this with Nigel and he has given multiple examples of how most studies of Pheasant impacts, have deliberately excluded any assessment of effects on reptiles and specifically Adders. The other year I attended an Adder conference for land managers at Thorne and Hatfield Moors, where there were various talks by a number of Adder experts including Nigel. All highlighted the enormous impacts of both Pheasants and the shooting industry on Adders. Adders have now disappeared from much of the country (the suspicion being that much of this is due to the big increase in Pheasants being released) and could become extinct in Britain within decades.

    There is no doubt whatsoever, that various assessments of the impacts of Pheasant releases are deliberately turning a blind-eye to the impacts of these releases, almost certainly because of pressure from the shooting lobby, who don't want restrictions interfering with their sport. I highly recommend people re-read Nigel Hand's excellent guest blog here on Adders, their decline and the impacts of the release of Pheasants. IMHO this latest Defra review does not adequately deal with this.

    1. SteB - you make some good points, all of which we have made and all of which remain in play to ensure that implementation is in accordance with the Habitats Directive. DEFRA have said that their implementation will be Habs Dir compliant - if it isn't they will be breaking the law and, I think though Iam not a lawyer, also in contempt of court. But you should, and others should, and Wiild Justice will, make these points in the consultation that must rapidly follow.

      The court process we have won cannot specify precisely what the right answer is - but DEFRA is committed, in law, to find it. And Wild Justice stands ready to take further legal action to drive this home.

      1. First of all, let me commend you again on winning this case. I was quite shocked hearing Nigel and other Adder ecologists and conservationists lay out all the detail. So much of this is never reported, and the issue of the shocking decline in Adders is given very little coverage. It is widely believed by Adder experts, that at the present rate of decline, that Adders will soon become extinct in Britain.

        My impression is that the shooting industry is only too aware that Pheasants have a major impact on reptile populations and want to keep this out of assessments as much as possible. What I'm saying is that the shooting industry is well aware that Pheasants are well known for specifically targeting reptiles, especially snakes, which they are known to kill or seriously injure, and often don't eat them. This is for an obvious reason related to mobbing, in that as ground nesting birds Pheasants see snakes as a threat.

        Where Pheasants originate from there are large populations of snakes, both in species diversity and biomass. This is entirely different in Britain which only has 3 native snake species, only 2 of which are widespread. What is more as being at the northern edge of the range of reptiles, the biomass of reptiles is far lower in Britain than in habitat where Pheasants originate. Adders are very vulnerable to avian predators, which is why they spend most of their time in the undergrowth after they have warmed up. Normally this would protect them from raptors and Corvids.

        However, Pheasants, which actively seek out and kill snakes, spend most of the day foraging in exactly the same type of undergrowth where Adders are normally safe from avian predators, and there are no native UK equivalents of Pheasants that Adders are adapted to dealing with.

        What I am saying is that with relatively few reptiles, both in species and biomass, British native reptiles are very vulnerable to a relatively large predator that actively seeks out snakes in the habitat where Adder seek refuge. With thousands of Pheasants, and only hundreds or scores of Adders, if a Pheasant only attacked a snake once in it's life time, the Pheasants would soon eliminate Adders. It's a simple numbers thing.

        In the British context, a specialist reptile and amphibian predator like Pheasants existing in the population densities they do, is entirely incompatible with reptile and amphibian conservation.

        The Madden and Sage report engages in the specious argument that as reptile DNA is not regularly found in Pheasant droppings this proves that reptiles do not figure highly in the diet of Pheasants. This is entirely spurious reasoning. As reptile numbers are so low in Britain the biomass of them are relatively small, and even if Pheasants were killing every reptile they came across, they would not be a major feature of Pheasant diet. This is because with a huge number of Pheasants and relatively few reptiles, the Pheasants could entirely eliminate the whole reptile population, without them ever becoming a major part of Pheasant diet. It is quite incredible that Madden and Sage show no understanding at all of the low population densities of British reptiles, why, or any understand at all of reptile ecology and conservation in the UK.

        Assessments of the impacts of Pheasants on Adders and other reptiles in the UK should be written by those with relevant knowledge of British reptile ecology and conservation, not specialists in Pheasants who show no interest in the ecology and conservation of reptiles in the UK. It is incredible. We are looking at the possibility of Adders becoming extinct in Britain in the next couple of decades at the present rate of decline. Nearly all Adder experts believe this is due to the amount of Pheasants being released, which has vastly increased in recent years. From memory, just a few million Pheasants were released at the beginning of the 1970s, and now it is possibly over 50 million. Over the same period of time Adders have gone into major decline and have completely disappeared from large parts of Britain where formerly they were present.

        Sorry for going on at length Mark, but this needs to be acknowledged, and if no one else is saying it, I need to say it.

  8. Well done, Wild Justice. I hope this will encourage yet more people to donate to your 'war chest'. It would seem that the only way we can get wildlife and environmental laws enforced is through legal challenge. What a sad reflection on our statutory agencies.


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