Animal Aid

GREED AND EXCESS - Brutality exposed

Posted 1 December 2001

Pheasant shoot signWhen we launched our damning exposé of the pheasant rearing and shooting industry last September, leading gun lobbyists rejected it as extreme and fanciful. Yet admissions made during the past year in gun magazines not only support much of what we said in The Killing Fields report, they also suggest that the industry sees itself caught in a major crisis of its own making, from which recovery is far from certain. (See The Pheasant Industry in its Own Words.)

In magazines such as Country Life, Shooting Times, The Countryman and The Field, it has been admitted that so many pheasants are being factory-reared to satisfy the base instincts of a new breed of vain and boastful gunman, that millions of birds are going uneaten. Many are buried in specially-dug holes in order to dispose of the embarrassing evidence of excess. Huge numbers also end up mown down by traffic or perish from disease and exposure. Based on industry figures, we estimate that around 36 million birds are released annually, about 16 million of whom are shot, and 8 million eaten.

According to an editorial in Country Life magazine, other consequences of over-production include 'crop damage, soil erosion round release pens and a greatly increased risk of disease' within the rearing sheds.

This, and other, self-incriminating testimony forms the basis of Animal Aid's revealing new report published to mark the start of the pheasant shooting season on October 1. Further startling revelations are planned for later in the season, which ends on February 1.

Our objective is to continue building public and political support for a total ban on the commercial rearing of pheasants for 'sport'. Such a ban already exists in Holland and, as a nervous Country Life editorial commented on 1st February 2000: 'There seems little doubt that coming years will see the threat of similar legislation in this country.'

In response to the evidence assembled by Animal Aid, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker commented:

'Most people believe that shooting is about killing a bird for the pot. This is no longer the case. Today, it is about blasting birds out of the sky for some kind of twisted pleasure. This gluttony of firepower is killing huge numbers of birds and causing environmental damage. Even shooters themselves are now expressing concern about these bloated and unsustainable practices'.

Mr Baker has also asked a series of parliamentary questions that test the regulatory framework governing pheasant shooting.

It was on September 29 last year that Animal Aid opened its campaign against the rearing and shooting of pheasants with the publication of The Killing Fields report and an undercover video. Both exposed as a sham the image of tweedy amateurism, good breeding and respect for the countryside that the pheasant industry likes to present to the world. The reality we revealed was that rearing and shooting is a poorly regulated agribusiness, which combines the worst aspects of factory farming with a live-target shooting gallery.

The Animal Aid report also exposed how the self-appointed 'guardians of the countryside' annually dump thousands of tonnes of leadshot, whilst killing 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 reared pheasants. But species ranging from badgers to cats - even protected birds of prey like owls and kestrels - are caught and killed. Our video shows 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.

Even before they become target practice for the heroes in tweed and wax jackets, 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 birds 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.

An array of pharmaceutical products is also liberally administered to try to combat the diseases that flourish in the crowded conditions. These products include DMZ, banned by the European Union in the mid-90s for all species except game birds because there is no accepted safe level.

One man who has first-hand experience of the damage and mayhem caused by the wanton bird slaughter is West Country woodlands owner, Theo Hopkins. The Killing Fields report had a profound effect on him.

'Once, I was a 'townie' and thought shooting was a respectable and even humane country sport,' he told Animal Aid. 'Now, after eight years of first renting my wood to a shoot and then just watching things, I know it is, for many people, just a matter of how many birds can one kill in a day. It's a bloodsport here, not a fieldsport. The Guns don't eat the birds and the shoots can't even sell them. It is time to have this wanton slaughter stopped.'

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