Dutch could ban all ‘sport’ shooting

Posted on the 11th April 2013

Animal Aid has campaigned hard against the shooting of ‘game birds’ for sport for 15 years, gathering evidence through undercover filming and publishing several reports that make evident the wholesale cruelty and environmental damage involved.

One of our main inspirations for change has come from viewing progress in the Netherlands, which already has some of the strictest controls in the world on shooting and firearms licensing and could now be about to become the first country to implement an outright ban on sport shooting – or ‘pleasure hunting’ as it is known there.

The Netherlands was the first country to outlaw the production and release of birds for shooting, and has a ban in place on the hunting of deer, wild boar and geese. Currently, the hunting of wild hares, pheasants, mallards, pigeons and rabbits is permitted, but the new proposals would extend prohibition to all wildlife, as well as ‘game’ birds (albeit with a proviso permitting rural governments to authorise the shooting of certain species under certain circumstances).

In an editorial in this month’s Shooting Times, Alistair Balmain reacted arrogantly to the proposals: ‘Naturally, this news will bring succour to those in the UK who see the Netherlands as a progressive model, but the proposals totally ignore the genuine conservation, economic and social benefits of shooting.’

In contrast to the British shooting lobby’s disingenuous attempts to link shooting with conservation and environmental protection, there is widespread concern in the Netherlands that it impacts negatively on farmland. In line with this concern, Animal Aid’s research has repeatedly shown that, far from bringing ‘genuine conservation benefits’, game bird production and shooting wreak havoc on the natural ecosystem. In the UK, approximately 50 million pheasants and partridges are bred to be shot each year. The forced release of such an unnaturally high number of birds into concentrated areas disrupts the natural balance, prompting increased numbers of predator species who are attracted by the buffet of birds cast loose in front of them. In order to stop pheasants and partridges from being eaten – and thereby ensuring that they can grow up to be blasted from the sky – huge numbers of animals such as foxes, weasels, stoats and corvines are trapped, shot and poisoned by gamekeepers each year in what the industry calls ‘predator control programmes’. Protected rare birds, including buzzards, golden eagles and owls, and other animals such as badgers and even cats and dogs, have also been killed illegally – a situation that has been described by the Secretary of State for Scotland as a ‘national disgrace’. In a gross perversion of the truth, the industry claims that it is carrying out vital conservation work as some species of ground nesting birds (who, since they pose no threat to the game birds, are not persecuted) flourish due to the elimination of their own natural predators.

The production of grouse poses a further habitat-specific problem. To create an environment artificially rich in fresh young heather shoots, with easily accessible bugs and grubs on which grouse chicks enjoy feasting, existing heather is burnt off to prompt new growth. This forces the release of millions of tons of carbon that is locked into the peat bogs and lies beneath the heather moors. Dr Adrian Yallop, former Director of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, has likened the situation and its negative effects to setting fire to the Amazon Forest.

Another detrimental result of shooting is the release of tons of toxic lead into waterways and countryside. According to the Natural Environment Research Council, ‘Lead is also causing huge incidental mortality in wildlife. Some species ingest spent gunshot along with grit, while others ingest lead fragments from the carcasses and gut piles of shot animals on which they feed.’

Far from being custodians, gamekeepers and estate owners are the perpetrators of crimes against the countryside. They are responsible for promoting wanton killing of both the birds they regard as flying targets and native wild species. While Shooting Times editor Alastair Balmain sneers that it would be a ‘dubious honour’ if the Netherlands becomes the first country in the world to ban shooting, we believe that it would be a significant step forward for both animal and environmental protection.

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