Gamebirds victory (2) – how many gamebirds?

Seven week old pheasant chicks, often known as poults, after just being released into a gamekeepers release pen on an English shooting estate

Wild Justice started its legal challenge of gamebird releases in July 2019. The latest published figures for gamebird releases of which we were aware were those by the GWCT in 2018 (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. 2018a. How many birds are shot in the UK? Game and Wildlife Review 2017: 41–42.) which referred to the 2012/13 shooting season and put the figure at 43 million Pheasants (and 8.9 million Red-legged Partridges). And so it was on that basis that we raised the money that has allowed us to make this successful legal challenge. Note that same paper gives estimates of numbers released from 2004/05 too; 35 million Pheasant, 6.3 million RLPs).

By the time we had reached this spring and rejuvenated the challenge due to lack of progress by DEFRA there was a new estimate published by GWCT (Aebischer 2019) which updated the figures to 2016 and they then stood at 47 million Pheasants and 10 million RLPs – now much closer to 60 million birds in total.

The documents released by DEFRA on Friday (of which we had, in Wild Justice, of course, been aware for some time) show (Exhibit EB2, page 113, section 1.3) that the latest GWCT estimates, this time for 2018, were of 49.5 million Pheasants and 11.7 million RLPs, making a total of 61.2 million non-native gamebirds released into our countryside .

I’ve seen so many out-of-date figures being used over recent months, even by the RSPB. I can understand that it is difficult to keep up with the growth of the unregulated gamebird releasing industry but can we all use 49.5 million Pheasants and 11.7 million RLPs from now until a new estimate is published please? The estimate for 2021 should be quite a lot lower thanks to the Wild Justice legal action.

No wonder Mishal Husain asked Tim Bonner (here – 10 minutes before the end of the programme) about the massive numbers and massive rise in numbers of released non-native gamebirds to which all he could say was ‘Shooting is massively popular‘. Thanks Tim, glad you could make it!

To summarise:

2004/05, 35m Pheasants + 6.3m RLPs

2012/13, 43m Pheasants + 8.9m RLPs

2016/16, 47m Pheasants + 10m RLPs

2018/19, 49.5m Pheasants + 11.6m RLPs

Or, over a 14-year period an extra 1m Pheasants were released every year and an extra 0.5m RLPs – total releases completely unregulated.

Well, at least we know where they all are released – do we? See next blog at 1245pm.

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8 Replies to “Gamebirds victory (2) – how many gamebirds?”

  1. Does the upcoming 1 month lockdown stop grouse and pheasant shooting? It would appear that this time they will not be exempt? More than two people should not meet up outside…..

  2. Tim Bonner says that, because ‘Shooting is massively popular‘ it justifies the indiscriminate release of obscene numbers of non-native birds. Beavers and lynx are ‘massively popular’ but somehow we don’t seem to have the same relaxed attitude to the release of these formerly native species.

    That does this tell us? That our values are all wrong? That we’ve let a small group of people exert control over our land? That the citizen is excluded from decisions about land and its management? Whatever it is, change is needed.

  3. Just because something is “massively popular” with a relatively small section of the populace doesn’t make it either right or otherwise justifiable. Hopefully the decision by DEFRA will mean a whole new attitude to the driven shooting of non-native gamebirds because what we really need is for all of its ills and excesses to become entirely socially unacceptable especially amongst shooters themselves. I’m with you Alick when it comes to Beavers and Lynx.

  4. Those oft-quoted numbers have always struck me as unrealistically high. If there are 6000 shoots in the UK, then on average, each would release 10,000 birds. If 1/3 were shot, then they would, on average be shooting about 150 birds/day on 20 shooting days. These figures bear no relationship to either survey data describing what happens on commercial game shoots, nor to data from adverts provided by those shoots touting for trade, nor to the patterns that we see in the admittedly unreliable and patchy APHA Poultry Register data.

    Of course, there is no such thing as an ‘average shoot’ and all the indications are that they are very skewed with a few very big ones and many smaller ones.

    The GWCT figures are based on one method of estimating these numbers. I made a series of other estimations (~70) and from these derived a mean estimation of ~35 million birds being released comprising 24.3-25.3 million pheasants, 4.2-9.4 million partridges and 1.0-4.9 million mallard (everyone always forgets the mallard!).

    The preprint of the paper is available on Bioarxiv https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.10.22.350603v1 and has been submitted for peer review. If you’d like to critique the methods or conclusions, I’d welcome that.

    It may pay to be a bit more circumspect when stating release numbers. They are uncertain and therefore whatever estimates are used come with a high degree of uncertainty because the current monitoring methods are poor at capturing the data.

    Of course, it’s in few peoples interest to accept a lower number, perhaps 40% lower than commonly stated. For those who wish to emphasise or exaggerate the direct damage that release gamebirds can cause, more birds makes for a stronger impression. For those who wish to emphasise or exaggerate the economic benefits of shooting, more birds inevitably suggests more value.

    However, given the proposed changes by DEFRA it is important to have as accurate idea as possible of recent patterns of release so that any changes, captured by what will likely be a more efficient Registration system, can be compared. Otherwise, those who hope that those changes will restrict shooting will crow, or those who fear that the changes will damage will moan, that there has be “a drastic cut in releases by 40%”, whereas actually perhaps not so many birds were ever being released anyway.

    1. Jo – huh! These are published figures and have been calculated in a pretty similar way for many years as I understand it. I don’t know whether they are correct but they are industry figures and they are the figures quoted by DEFRA in the papers which form part of the Wild Justice legal case settled last week. They are also figures produced by the individual at GWCT for whom I have the highest scientific respect, Nicholas Aebischer, don’t get snarky with me. What else would you expect an independent observer to use?

      Nice advert for your unpublished paper though. By the way, is your target journal the first place you have submitted that paper of yours? Just wondering.

      And while you are here, I’ve been re-reading Madden and Sage today and, it may just be me, but I don’t find that figure of 500m which DEFRA is using as the distance after which there can be no possibility of an impact of Pheasant or Red-legged Partridge releases. Is the 500m figure in your report (if so, please point me to it)? Thanks.

    2. “If there are 6000 shoots in the UK”

      Well, are there 6000 shoots in the UK or is this yet another ‘gap’ in our knowledge?

  5. Yes – the values you are quoting are those produced by GWCT and calculated by Nicholas. As I explain in the MS (you have read it haven’t you?) those previous calculations may be based on a biased dataset. Nicholas has seen the MS. The MS is not cited in the NE/BASC Review because it was written after that was submitted, indeed it was prompted during the process of compiling that Review as I realised that the figure of 57 million appeared to be in stark contradiction of other data that I was encountering.

    If you thought that was me getting snarky with you, then your skin is far thinner than I’d imagined. I was merely drawing your attention to a very recently produced piece of work that has a very direct bearing on the point that your blog was making. I didn’t have the arrogance to assume that you’d read it – you seem to have been fairly busy with other things over the past few days – so I didn’t expect you to have quoted anything other than the ‘usual numbers’. However, now you are aware of this alternative set of estimates, you or your blog readers may wish to adjust or qualify your future statements about release numbers. Or you may wish to ignore them.

    Which journal would you think that I submit such work to? Just wondering.

    You’ll find all of the data that we evaluated regarding dispersal on pages 79-82 of the Review. You’ll have to ask DEFRA how they integrated the various different measures that we presented to arrive at the figure of 500m.

    1. Jo – that’s what I thought when I asked you whether that figure came from Madden and Sage, it didn’t. I won’t keep re-reading then.
      Yes I’d seen your unpublished paper and might well comment on it.

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