Animal Aid

YOUNG BLOOD - Background to the industry

In part 3 of this special Animal Aid report, we look at the background to the pheasant shooting industry.

Last September, Animal Aid produced an in-depth report on the pheasant industry, called The Killing Fields, backed by shocking undercover footage. The industry claims to be practising responsible 'custodianship' of the countryside. But rather than 'harvesting' a natural resource, it mass produces its quarry inside industrial hatcheries and rearing sheds. From the sheds, the birds are moved to fattening pens before being released to serve as feathered targets for the men and women in wax jackets and plus fours.

Every year in Britain, this is the fate of some 35 million pheasants. Because of the enfeeblement that results from their 'institutionalised' upbringing, about half of the released birds die before they can be gunned down. They perish from exposure, starvation, disease, predation, or under the wheels of motor vehicles.

Evidence buried

Of the roughly 16 million birds who are shot, only about eight million are eaten. A large number are left to rot where they fall or they are buried in specially dug holes - an attempt to conceal the evidence of excess. These details are acknowledged by leading gun lobbyists, writing in British magazines for fellow enthusiasts, such as Country Life, Countryman's Weekly, Shooting Times and The Field. (See Animal Aid's Special Report.)

Production levels, it is admitted, are geared towards serving the vanity of 'instant shooting man', who imagines that blasting birds out of the sky will enhance his social standing and who likes to boast in the office about the size of his weekend bag. These shooters might be responsible for personally downing dozens of barely airborne birds. But they often don't bother taking home for consumption any of their quarry.

The consequences of such over-production include 'crop damage, soil erosion around release pens and a greatly increased risk of disease' within the rearing sheds, according to an editorial in Country Life magazine (Feb. 1, 2001).

Snares, poisons and traps

But the welfare burdens and environmental dislocation imposed by the pheasant industry go further. Animal Aid has documented how the self-appointed guardians of the countryside annually kill around five million wild birds and mammals with snares, poison and body-crushing traps in predator control programmes. Gamekeepers deliberately target foxes, stoats and weasels, because they are attracted to the unnaturally large number of semi-domesticated pheasants. But species ranging from badgers to cats - even protected birds of prey like owls and kestrels - are also caught and killed. Animal Aid undercover videos show a number of animals dying in traps - as well as downed birds flailing on the ground whilst unconcerned shooters line up their next feathered target.

Restraints and mutilations

Even before they become target practice, the shed-reared birds suffer serious privations. In an attempt to eliminate aggression caused by the crowded conditions in the rearing sheds and release pens, the pheasants are subjected to painful restraints and mutilations. These include:

  • Beaks being partially amputated with a red-hot blade.
  • Blinker-like 'spectacles' fixed in place - sometimes by pins driven through the nasal septum.
  • The fitting of plastic or metal 'bits' to prevent closure of the beak.
  • The tying of one wing to prevent escape prior to release.

The final part of our Young Blood report looks at firearms legislation and children.

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