Exposed! Disturbing new undercover film of partridges and pheasants used by shooting industry for egg production

Posted on the 18th June 2015

New undercover film of caged partridges released today by Animal Aid reveals what the national campaign group describes as an animal production system that is ‘as cruelly oppressive as any we have witnessed in this country’.

  • Disturbing new undercover film of partridges used by shooting industry for egg production
  • Held for weeks in tiny metal boxes
  • The barren units breach official welfare code
  • Animal Aid explores legal action
  • Government, meanwhile, still won’t publish £420,000 study of welfare impact of game bird cages, six years after it was commissioned

New undercover film of caged partridges released today by Animal Aid reveals what the national campaign group describes as an animal production system that is ‘as cruelly oppressive as any we have witnessed in this country’. The birds are used by the shooting industry to produce offspring whose fate is to be shot for sport. The cages are in clear breach of the official welfare Code, and Animal Aid is now exploring the prospects of launching legal action. It has also written to Defra Secretary of State, Liz Truss, calling on her to take ‘prompt enforcement and remedial action’.

The footage is made public as the government continues to stall over the release of a major study into whether such ‘raised laying’ cages can be justified on animal welfare grounds. It was commissioned in 2009 at a cost of more than £420,000, and although completed at the beginning of 2015, it has still not been published.

The breeding partridges in Animal Aid’s footage are confined in the tiny barren metal boxes for weeks without respite. Both the floor and roof are made from rigid mesh and, with four solid metal walls defining each ‘cell’, the units are essentially sweat boxes.

The footage was captured on May 17 at Heath Hatcheries in Mildenhall, Suffolk but the cages are typical of others used for partridges at sites across the country. Despite their widespread use, they are in clear breach of the government’s Code of Practice for Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes. This states that ‘…small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used…’

Also released by Animal Aid today is new undercover footage that shows caged breeding pheasants at Bettws Hall game farm in mid-Wales – believed to be the UK’s largest producer of pheasants and partridges for the shooting industry. Each raised laying cage at Bettws – which holds eight to ten females and one male – is also essentially devoid of ‘enrichment’. The floors and roofs are made from mesh, and the single tree stump provided allows just one bird to perch on it at a time. There are no nest boxes, no foraging materials, and just a small ‘privacy’ area that amounts to a barren space behind a plastic ‘curtain’.

While the Heath Hatcheries partridges looked mournful and dejected in their tiny metal cells, many of the Bettws pheasants appeared highly stressed and were suffering serious feather loss on their chests, backs and legs. Many females were fitted with facemasks that are designed to limit stress-related pecking of cage mates.

Raised laying cages have been highly controversial ever since Animal Aid’s covert footage – shot at several sites around the country – was featured on BBC’s Countryfile in 2004. A divisive debate within the industry followed, which saw the British Association for Shooting and Conservation line up alongside Animal Aid in strong opposition to the cages.

Animal Aid continued to gather undercover evidence, produce reports and engage in political lobbying. In 2010, came the breakthrough: the introduction of a new Gamebird Production Code of Practice under the Animal Welfare Act. This effectively banned the pheasant cages – though allowed those for partridges to remain in use.

Within weeks of the Coalition taking over, however, a new Code was introduced that sanctioned continued use of the cages for pheasants as well as for partridges, providing they are ‘enriched’. It is the sham of ‘enrichment’ that the new Animal Aid footage exposes.

  • Birmingham, Hall Green MP, Roger Godsiff, is to table a series of Parliamentary Questions aimed at establishing the scale of welfare breaches relating to caged partridges.

Says Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler:

‘The Animal Welfare Act makes it a criminal offence to subject an animal to unnecessary suffering. The suffering of these partridges, incarcerated for weeks at a time in tiny metal boxes, is surely real and severe. Nor can such suffering, by any sane measure, be described as necessary. The birds are used by the shooting industry to produce offspring whose fate is to be released and shot for sport. The government has stalled on this issue for years. It must act now and ban the cages.’

Further information

Photos from Heath Hatcheries in Mildenhall, Suffolk

Photos from Bettws Hall game farm in mid-Wales

Read more posts...

Objecting to planning applications

Is there is an intensive farm looking to set up in your local area? We have put together a guide to help you make an objection.

Posted 23 Jul 2020

Steanbow Farms, Somerset

Animal Aid’s Vegan Bake Off

In June 2020, we held Animal Aid's first Vegan Bake Off to give our supporters a chance to showcase their creations and show how easy it can be to cook with cruelty-free ingredients.

Posted 21 Jul 2020

Animal Aid's Vegan Bake Off