Pheasant shooting has a negative impact on conservation in Britain

Bird shooting under the cosh

The RSPB is taking a more critical stance with respect to pheasant shooting because it has a negative impact on conservation in Britain. The RSPB’s Royal Charter (granted in 1904) describes game bird shooting as legitimate and until today the organisation has resisted calls to change their attitude.

However, it has been known that game bird shooting goes against the objects of the society because its rules state that “The society shall take no part in the question of the killing of game birds….except when such practices have an impact on the objects”. The objects of the society include “conserving wild birds and other wildlife”.

Bird shooting under the cosh

Bird shooting under the cosh due to RSPB’s change in stance. Picture in public domain.

It is known that only about one-third of the 47 million peasants and 10 million red-legged partridges released are shot and retrieved. The rest become food for scavengers such as rats and foxes which boosts their numbers which threatens species such as curlews and lapwings, ironically. It is also said that the pheasants which are not shot and which remain in the wild kill adult adders and swallow young snakes whole.

A while ago, The Times reported that pheasants shot and retrieved were often dumped into a pit rather than recycled as food because their number exceeds demand.

There is mounting evidence that game bird shooting is harmful to wildlife in the UK. The mass release of game birds has risen by a factor of ten since the 1970s. The RSPB have been forced to review their policy. Supporters of bird shooting are concerned that the new policy may lead to restrictions on their hobby. The RSPB will present their new policies at their annual meeting today and it will include the principle that game bird shooting “must not adversely affect the population of any native species”. And they will assess the shooting with respect to its environmental impacts.

Eighty percent of RSPB members support the new policy which may lead to the government initiating a requirement for licences for pheasant shoots which could be withdrawn if there are problems with conservation and dumping as mentioned.

In addition, there have been reports (and it is a known problem) that rogue gamekeepers kill protected birds of prey in order to protect pheasants. This would be a problem which might lead to the removal of a licence from an organised shoot.

The chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, in defence, said that he disagreed with some of the principles claiming that they had “no basis in international treaties or any other conservation thinking”.

Chris Packham, has already accused the government of being in breach of the EU habitats directive because there has to be an assessment of the environmental impacts on the mass release of game birds and this has not been carried out. A legal challenge has been mounted by the group Wild Justice of which Chris Packham is a co-founder. The British Association for Shooting & Conservation and Natural England funded a review of the environmental impact of game bird shooting and found that there were negative effects on wildlife and habitats.

The bird shooters see this as a slippery slope towards restrictions to their pastime.