Pheasants and red-legged partridges are traditional ‘game’ birds used in the shooting industry. Both of these non-native species are released into the environment in huge numbers each year, on UK ‘game’ bird shooting estates.
Many of the tens of millions of birds released on UK shooting estates
are bought from intensive farming systems in European countries
Over 5 million pheasants and over 2.1 million partridges were imported live into the UK
between 1st May 2018 and 30th April 2019
54,000 hatching pheasant eggs & 5,250 eggs live birds were imported from the USA
during the same period of time
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.
A report commissioned by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust admitted that 47 million pheasants were released into the environment in 2016 – an increase of 588% over 50 years - with a maximum of 18 million of these being recorded as shot. Similarly, up to 10 million red-legged partridges were released, and up to an estimated 5.9 million of the birds were recorded as shot. Industry figures show that these numbers have continued to increase, rising to 61.2 million non-native ‘game’ birds released into the countryside in 2018.
‘Game’ birds are not raised as wild birds, they are instead mass farmed in the same way as intensively reared farm animals, yet they are not protected by humane slaughter laws and many won’t be eaten as food.
The Government admitted that over 25 million pheasants and pheasant eggs were imported into the UK between 1st May 2018 and the 30th April 2019. These birds are farmed and shot in the name of 'sport', with many wounded and left to suffer.
What is wrong with pheasant and partridge shooting?
According to Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), virtually all the red-legged partridges released on UK ‘game’ bird 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.
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 ‘game’ bird shooting industry even the basic welfare protection given to birds farmed for food, despite the similar 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. However, no minimum legal space or enrichment requirements have been implemented for caged game birds.
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 ‘game’ bird shooting industry, less than half of the birds released each year are killed by shooters. Millions of ‘game’ birds die on the roads surrounding shooting estates, causing damage to vehicles and distress to motorists. Others die from disease or exposure to the British weather, as both species are adapted to warmer climates.
In order to minimise predation of ‘game’ birds’ by native predators and to maximise profit, gamekeepers will set snares and traps to target animals such as foxes, stoats and crows. 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.
The Government has also now prioritised safeguarding the profits of the ‘game’ bird shooting industry, over the protection of native British species. Natural England has issued licenses in recent years to kill buzzards in order to ‘protect’ pheasant poults from their predation. This Government policy has been strongly criticised by the League, RSPB and conservation experts.
In some respects what happens on the day of a ‘game’ bird 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 shooting 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 distances 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.
Take Action on pheasant and partridge shooting
Join the League in our endeavours to protect ‘game’ birds by becoming a voice for them. By joining our supporter groups, writing to your MP, or sharing this on your social media to express your concerns, together we can lead the way to a future without animals being persecuted in the name of ‘sport’.
Find Out More
Read our report The Case Against Bird Shooting