Shining a spotlight on the cruelty of ‘game’ bird cages

Thinking of birds often evokes powerful images of freedom, flight and life on the wing. But this couldn’t be further from the truth for tens of thousands of pheasants and partridges used for breeding by the shooting industry. Their welfare has been neglected for far too long, but change could be getting closer with the introduction of a Private Members Bill by Lord Randall of Uxbridge. Debated fully in the UK Parliament for the first time today, it aims to bring an end to the caged breeding of game birds.

Imprisoned in cramped, battery cages for months or years at a time, breeding pheasants and partridges have no chance of escape. Not even covered by basic legal standards for other farmed birds, they are denied the chance to fulfil their most basic natural behaviours – to dust bathe, forage or fly. It is no life for any animal, let alone for semi-wild birds whose every instinct goes against confinement in a small metal box. And all this to produce more birds on an industrial scale, simply to be shot for ‘sport’.

That’s why legislation to end the caged breeding of cage birds is so vital – and we wholeheartedly welcome the debate on the Game Birds (Cage Breeding) Bill in the House of Lords today, which would apply to England and Wales. The issue was absent from the government’s recently published Action Plan for Animals – a glaring omission given the ever-increasing intensity of the shooting industry which releases more than 60 million birds a year. Championed by Lord Randall, today’s bill will help to shine a light on the desperate plight of game birds confined to cruel battery cages.

The battery cages in this intensive production are often metal boxes raised from the ground, with mesh floor and a roof of netting or rigid wire. Pheasants are kept in groups of one male and up to ten females, with partridges kept in pairs in even smaller cages, often with less space than an A4 piece of paper each. With no minimum space requirements in law, these awful conditions are still completely legal – something new legislation will aim to solve. Examples of the stress and injury caused by such cages include exposure to extreme temperatures, wounds to feet from wire mesh floors, headwounds inflicted by repeated, futile attempts to escape, and restraining devices fitted over birds’ beaks when the crowded conditions lead to aggression between cage mates. Quite simply, cages are cruel and their use must end.

Private Members Bills, introduced by individual parliamentarians rather than the government, have no guarantee of passing. But we welcome the legislation and Lord Randall’s aim to outlaw the caged breeding of game birds, and continue to campaign for change in the Welsh Parliament too. We hope that it will soon spell an end to caged cruelty which represents some of the greatest of the suffering of shooting birds for ‘sport’.

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