The pheasant industry – Feathering their nests

Posted on the 1st October 2002

Andrew Tyler exposes the financial scams at the heart of the pheasant industry.

We call it 'The Capone Factor'. The US authorities couldn't get underworld figure Al for murder, so they put him away for tax evasion. Similarly, Animal Aid's new report on the pheasant rearing and shooting industry - timed to coincide with the October 1st start of the new season - targets the industry's soft financial underbelly.

In Feathering Their Nests: the pheasant industry and the missing tax millions, we reveal how the bird killers are depriving the public purse of millions of pounds in unpaid rates, VAT and game licence fees. In particular, we identify 40 pheasant rearing operations that had been advertising birds for sale yet whose names did not appear on the ratings list. We submitted their names to the relevant government agency and several have already been instructed that, from now on, rates will have to be paid.

The loss of public revenues, our report explains, arises from the confusion across several government departments as to whether the mass production and shooting of millions of pheasants every year is ‘sport’ or ‘agriculture’. It is a confusion the industry is happy to exploit. Pheasant farmers and shooting operators are particularly keen to claim ‘agricultural’ status because this means they can avoid VAT and rates.

To call their gross and wasteful activities ‘agricultural’ is clearly a travesty. Nor are they remotely ‘sporting’. This is an industry that mass produces in sheds and mesh enclosures some 35 million birds every year. Only about one quarter of that total is actually eaten – that’s according to the industry’s own champions writing in leading shooting magazines. About 16 million released birds die from starvation, disease, predation or under the wheels of motor vehicles before they can be shot – they simply can’t cope outside the sheds. Half of those who are shot are left to rot or are buried in the ground.

In response to our report, Conservative MP David Amess, the Liberal Democrat’s Norman Baker and Labour’s Tony Banks wrote jointly to Chancellor Gordon Brown calling for a full inquiry into the lost revenues. They have also written to the chairman of the All-Party Treasury Select Committee.

Ministry muddle

Customs & Excise, Feathering Their Nests reveals, has decided that the pheasant industry is agricultural, and so rearing operations enjoy a zero VAT burden. The Valuation Office Agency, on the other hand, says that pheasant producers are ‘sporting’ rather than agricultural. This means that they should pay business rates – and yet, as indicated above, we have found scores of non-payers.

The most muddled ministry is DEFRA. It defines pheasant rearing as sporting – and therefore exempt from the basic animal welfare laws that offer a tiny measure of protection to poultry and other farmed animals. The intensively reared birds are ‘protected’ by no more than a voluntary industry code. But while DEFRA exempts pheasant producers from welfare laws because it is a ‘sporting’ rather than ‘agricultural’ activity, the same ministry has awarded the industry a grant of £150,000 to help market ‘game’ meat… on the grounds that the meat is a ‘quality agricultural product’.

Local planning laws, the Animal Aid report reveals, are also being exploited, and there is widespread flouting of the legal requirement to purchase a licence to keep, shoot, or deal in game. Just £4,132 was raised from licence fees throughout the country in 2000/2001, after administrative costs were subtracted.

In answer to our opponents who argue that the Animal Aid report is one more townie-inspired attack on the countryside, we point out that the lost revenues are sums that could go towards helping support those same rural communities that lobby groups like the Countryside Alliance and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation claim are their number one concern.


Our Feathering Their Nests campaign offensive is aimed initially at regulating and curbing the industry. We are calling for a full cross-departmental government investigation to recover the millions of pounds in lost revenues.

Our bigger objective is to build public and political support for a total ban on the production of pheasants for ‘sport’ shooting. Such a ban already exists in Holland and the industry fears, with our campaign against it gathering support, that the Dutch example could be followed here. Please help by distributing copies of our brand new ‘Guilty!’ campaign leaflet and poster.


  • Contact the Animal Aid office and order bulk copies of our new pheasant leaflet and poster. The first 100 leaflets and one poster are free. Further leaflets are charged at £1.50 for 100, £6 for 500 and £10 for 1,000. Posters cost 50p each or £2 for 10.
  • Read our new Feathering Their Nests report.
  • Write to your MP drawing attention to our new report and asking him/her to demand that the industry be brought into line, and that a law is passed to ban the mass production of pheasants by the shooting industry.
  • Write a letter to your local newspaper.
  • Support Animal Aid campaigns – get active.
  • Become an Animal Aid member – join online today.

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