Around 30 million pheasants and five million red-legged partridges, both non-native species in the UK, are released on UK shooting estates each year. Around 80% of these are pheasants, and 20% are red-legged partridges.

These are not wild birds, they are factory farmed in much the same way as intensively reared chickens, yet are not protected by humane slaughter laws and many won’t even end up on someone’s plate. They are farmed and shot purely for 'sport', with many wounded and left to suffer.

What is wrong with pheasant and partridge shooting?

Factory Farming

According to Defra, virtually all of the red-legged partridges released on UK shooting estates come from breeding birds confined in barren wire-mesh cages with less space per bird than an A4 piece of paper, often for most of their life.

An increasing majority of breeding pheasants are also confined in wire-mesh cages for several months.

In the UK minimum standards exist for the protection of animals bred or kept for farming. However, it does not apply to ‘animals intended for use in competitions, shows, cultural or sporting events or activities.’ This denies birds farmed for shooting even the basic welfare protection given to birds farmed for food, despite the similar rearing conditions.

In fact, since January 2012, barren cages for egg-laying hens have been illegal in the EU. Enrichment including nest boxes, litter, perch space and claw-shortening devices must now be provided, along with slightly more room per bird.

Yet there are no minimum legal space requirements for caged pheasants and partridges, and enrichment is given only a cursory mention in Defra’s voluntary Code of Practice for the Welfare of 'Game' Birds Reared for Sporting Purposes. Defra’s own research shows that countless caged pheasants and partridges suffer from painful open sores on their feet caused by the wire mesh floor, as well as wounds caused by aggressive pecking from cage-mates – a direct result of the overcrowded conditions. To reduce the injuries caused by pecking, breeding pheasants have various devices forced through their nostrils such as ‘bits’, which prevent the beak from closing fully.

Long-distance transport

Many of the 35 million birds released on UK shooting estates actually start their lives on intensive farms abroad – at least 50% according to Defra.

These young birds can spend 20 hours or more crammed inside a crate stacked in the back of a lorry travelling from farm to shoot.

Rearing for slaughter

Shooting estates buy young birds from breeding farms and rear them in crowded sheds and pens, releasing them just a few weeks before shooting season begins.

According to the shooting industry, less than half of the birds released each year are killed by shooters. Millions die on the roads surrounding shooting estates, causing damage to vehicles and distress to motorists. Others die from exposure to the British weather – both species come from much warmer climates – or disease.

Wildlife Persecution

In their bid to have as many birds as possible to shot for 'sport' and profit, gamekeepers wage a war of persecution on animals that kill ('predate on') 'game' birds. Wire snares and traps are set to target animals such as foxes, stoats and corvids, however, due to the indiscriminate nature of these devices, many non-target protected and endangered species such as badgers and hares get caught in these traps.

As well as the illegal killing of birds of prey the Government has also begun to sanction their persecution in order to safe guard the profits of the shooting industry. Natural England has issued licenses to kill buzzards, only just recovering from the brink of extinction, to ‘protect’ pheasant poults from their predation so that they can be shot for sport later. This is shooting protected birds to protect birds which will then be shot. This Government policy has been strongly criticised by the League and conservation experts.

A buzzard landing with his wings spread

Canned hunting

In some respects what happens on the day of a shoot is similar to what happens in the South African ‘canned’ hunting industry – where animals such as lions are tamed and confined in an enclosed area to make killing them by trophy hunters easier.

Pheasants and partridges which have been farmed, fed and ‘protected’ from predators are released onto shooting estates to be then driven towards paying shooters by employees called beaters.

With so many guns firing quickly at so many birds, wounding is common. According to a 2015 shooting industry survey, 76% of shooters were unable to accurately gauge distance, with 10% thinking the target was twice as far away. This inability to judge distance results in up to 40% of birds being wounded, rather than killed outright, according to a former training officer at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. Some may be left to die slowly where they fall.

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