Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Wales' Opponents of Pheasant Shooting (WOOPS!)


  1.  The Secretary of State presented the draft Bill as a Bill for our time and the 21st century. That it is certainly not. Instead it deliberately but inadequately seeks to preserve the cruelty of an inhumane blood sport that is definitely not of our time. In doing so it not only muddles the distinction between animals that are kept by man and those that are wild but also emphasises both the official and public ignorance that surrounds game bird shooting for pleasure.


  2.  It was Lembit Öpik MP who in promoting his Middle Way Group in the Hunting with Dogs debate, asserted that the capture and breeding of foxes for later release was wrongful conduct in hunting. Yet similarly, both practices are the legal foundation of game bird shooting. Birds are caught up, held for breeding and their offspring later released for pleasure shooting.

  3.  The birds are not bred as food. They are not despatched quickly and humanely. Their destruction provides pleasure for those that kill them. Their life and death is not synonymous with civilised society.


  4.  The aim of this submission is to highlight that the Animal Welfare Bill has been drafted to align with HM Government's conciliatory pledge to leave game shooting intact in the wake of its intention to publish the Hunting with Dogs Bill.


  5.  The expression protected animal includes most pets and farm animals and non-domestic animals not living in the wild state. It includes all animals kept by man. The Bill considers an animal is kept by man whenever someone can be identified as being in charge of, or responsible for, the animal.

  6.  Implicit in the Bill's estimate that its provisions will have a negligible financial effect on the game bird rearing industry (Table at Page 82) is the Bill's authors' lack of game bird rearing knowledge.


  7.  The pheasant-shooting season starts annually on 1 October and ends on 1 February in the following year. Egg production starts in March and progresses to July using surviving birds that are caught up at the end of the season. Chicks are maintained in the development areas until they are aged between 6-7 weeks and moved to Release Enclosures as poults from May and June onwards. At least one month before 1 October, the birds are seduced by feeding and watering to cover-crop or wooded areas that surround the Release Enclosures. For the remainder of their lives until destruction by shooting, they are fed, sheltered, watered and protected from predation by gamekeepers. Ideally the birds are hand fed and summoned by whistle twice a day. More practically, they are fed from hoppers. The birds are kept by man. There is no other way of maintaining in a confined area, the enormous game bird releases necessary to fulfil the British Association of Game Shooting and Conservation's (BASC) recommended maximum bag of 500 birds per day.

  8.  The Bill therefore classifies reared and released pheasants as protected animals. Clearly under this Bill it would be an offence to kill a game bird in any other way than humanely. The Bill clarifies that the killing of an animal is not in itself inconsistent with the duty to ensure its welfare, if done in an appropriate and humane manner. But it is not possible to guarantee a clean kill on a moving live target, in or approaching the outside of range, with a shotgun. Particularly so when there is no British obligatory test of shooting skills for those engaged in the killing of live birds and other animals, unlike many other countries.


  9.  Even more clearly, because the Bill expects to have little financial impact upon the game rearing industry, this muddled classification cannot be the intention of the Bill. It must be assumed that the Government believes that because pheasants and other game birds are released from close confinement they become wild. This attitude continues throughout official inconsistent classification of game. Game farms are subject to Non-Business Rates valuation by the Valuation Office Agency because the farms are not rearing food. Similarly game-rearing activity requires planning consent because it is not within the definition of agriculture in the Town and Country Planning Acts. Yet pheasants bred for sport are zero-rated for VAT because HM Customs and Excise do consider them food.


  10.  Game rearing is self-regulated by the Game Farmers' Association (GFA) Code of Practice. Game Shooting is self-regulated by the Code of Good Shooting Practice, sponsored amongst others by the BASC. Neither code is effective. Neither currently applies to all people rearing or shooting game.

  11.  The Bill intends to introduce a Statutory Code of Practice for the Rearing of Game Birds for Sport Shooting. It is envisaged that the new code will be based on the self-regulatory code that is currently ineffective. But the industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself. Regular reports in the media through 2004 back to 2003 and beyond highlight the excesses and abuses of the game shooting industry.

  12.  All the photographs in this submission were taken in a Welsh Game Farm during June 2004 (not printed). They do little to convey the suffering, crowded conditions, poor husbandry, hygiene, managerial indifference and appalling smell.

  13.  Yet in the absence of a full ban on rearing and shooting for pleasure, it is encouraging that the Bill also provides that a national Authority may consult such persons as it may think fit in drafting or amending Codes of Practice. It is recommended that organisations with clear agendas such as the BASC, GFA and the Game Conservancy Trust be balanced in equal measure by animal welfare organisations (also with their own agendas) and independent experts in any proposed committee formulating Codes of Practice.

  14.  Annex I to the draft Bill correctly summarises that there is little concern generally about the welfare of game birds. This Bill markedly misses the opportunity to correct the inhumanity inherent in game rearing and shooting.


  15.  Game rearing for pleasure shooting is counter to the general thrust of the Draft Animal Welfare Bill. Despite this, there has been a deliberate but muddled attempt to placate the rearing and shooting industry by leaving game rearing virtually unaffected, perhaps without understanding that reared and released game birds fall into the Bill's protected animal classification.

  16.  The Bill fails to address the cruelty of rearing an animal to gain pleasure from its destruction. Nor does it acknowledge the scale of the cruelty or its incongruity with the ideals of a civilised 21st century nation.


  17.  The Bill authorises the appropriate national authority to make provision for prohibiting specified practices in relation to animals. It is recommended that the Assembly of Wales and the Secretary of State (for practices in England) prohibit the cruelty of shooting all reared and released animals for pleasure. In the absence of the unambiguous outright and immediate ban unannounced by this Bill, the appropriate national authority is recommended to outline the phasing out of the release and shooting of game birds within a specified period.

20 August 2004

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