Pheasants are beautiful birds that are classed as livestock when reared to be shot, but seen as wild animals, as soon as they are released (in order to legally shoot them). These handsome birds are often heard before they are seen with a loud croaky call, and tend to roost in trees where they eat seeds, berries, insects and leaves. They have gorgeous coloured feathers. Bigger than partridges and much bigger than tiny quails, they are native to Asia. Around 57 million ‘game birds’ are released into the countryside each year, in order to be shot (mostly pheasants, grouse and red-legged partridges).
The government allows mass breeding of pheasants, although breeding too many (for shoots by rich landowners) causes a million road accidents each year, and too many pheasants (bred artificially to be shot) leads to them eating native adders and rare sand lizards. The constant damage to level the ground for grouse shoots also harms peatlands, which is believed to be one reason for increased flooding.
Opponents want the industry to switch to clay disc shooting, but these are non-biodegradable and can harm pets and wildlife (a better solution would be look at solutions like opening up country estates for visits, to retain income and jobs). Many pheasants killed for food contain lead shot that can be eaten by other wildlife and scavenging birds (unlike most other industries, the game bird one is only subject to a voluntary ban, at present). Shooting of any kind terrifies wildlife and most pets.
Did you know that pheasant shoots are also one of the main reasons, behind increased flooding? That’s because along with rivers bursting their banks due to changing weather with climate change (and the chopping down of trees and natural habitats to build), one of the main ways to stop flooding is to retain natural peat bogland, which not only is a harbour for endangered wildlife, but acts as a ‘natural sponge’ to soak up water, during heavy rainfall. One reason to never buy peat in garden centres.
However, a lot of natural peatland is burned to clear the heather, which young game birds like to feed on, and use as shelter. Burning the peatland makes the land ‘smooth’ so it cannot soak up excess rain. In addition, burning sphagnum moss and other plants prevents the storing of carbon (a process that has taken thousands of years) and also creates wildfires, which kills other creatures including adders, toads and badger cubs. At present, there is again only a voluntary ban on the burning of heather, likely because many MPs in government support the shooting industry, so have vested interests. Over-breeding pheasants also leads to them eating too many endangered sand lizards, and causes numerous road accidents, yearly.
Former RSPB director Mark Avery says grouse shoots also endanger other wildlife (mountain hares are killed as they carry mites that affect grouse). And it’s suspected that endangered hen harriers are also shot, due to being natural predators of grouse. In October 2021, one gamekeeper was caught trapping them to protect a shoot in Shropshire). Read Mark’s book Inglorious: Conflict In the Uplands.
The surviving birds do not go free: most are kept in captivity to be released again for the next shooting season (Mark writes that under the normal laws, you could not grab a wild bird and put it into captivity – but with game birds, it’s legal to suit those who support the industry). Environmental writer George Monbiot says our national parks allow shooting for a tiny minority of the UK population. He writes that during his term as Prime Ministser, David Cameron bizarrely (considering he tragically lost a disabled child) tried to change the law so that NHS patients would be charged for walking aids and neck braces, yet kept the cost of gun licenses frozen (so said George ‘you might have to buy your own crutches, but you’ll get your shotgun subsidised by the state’).
Why Game Bird Shooting is Cruel
League Against Cruel Sports is the main charity that campaigns against the shooting of game birds. These beautiful creatures are raised in mass farms like factory-farmed livestock, yet don’t have humane slaughter rules apply, and many are not eaten as food. Many are simply farmed and shot as ‘sport’. Most red-legged partridges are raised in the same way as factory-farmed chickens in small cages, in a size less than an A4 piece of paper, yet minimum welfare standards for game birds do not apply. Millions of game birds also travel long distances from Europe and the US, in order to be released on shooting estates. Others die naturally in the UK, as they are Asian birds not used to British weather.
Game birds have many natural predators. So to preserve profits, traps are set which kill foxes, stoats and crows, and non-target predators can get caught like badgers (and dogs). Natural England has even issued licenses to kill buzzards to protect pheasants, so they can be shot. Animal welfaer campaigners say that the pheasant industry works in a similar way to South Africa’s ‘canned hunting’ when big animals are released into an area, making killing for trophy hunts much easier. 76% of shooters cannot shoot properly, with around 40% of the birds being wounded, rather than killed, and others die slowly, where they fall.
How to Help Game Birds
- Don’t buy or eat game birds on the menu, if you eat meat. Explain to others who eat pheasant, how the industry involves killing of hares and sometimes birds of prey, and that many may contain lead shot.
- You can report upland burning to RSPB. You can report illegal activity to any creature at Animal Crimewatch or National Wildlife Crime Unit (anonymous, if wished).
- Write to your MP, asking what they are going to do about voting in measures to prevent hunting, and prevent the killing of hares and endangered birds of prey. And the voluntary (not compulsory ban on lead shot). You can view how your MP votes on hunting too.
Simple Solutions to Stop Flooding
So if nobody shot pheasants so did not burn the heather and retained natural peat, what else can we do to stop floods, which harm people, pets and native wildlife? Simple solutions to stop flooding do exist, and you would be surprised how simple they are, it just requires a few changes to government policy. The problem is that only a few people really own most land, so policy never changes to what is needed, it just is obsessed with keeping the status quo, to benefit the few.
Of course, climate change is causing freak weather, but also lack of trees does not help, as trees soak up water. Recently the government tried to sell off the remaining forests to industry and only a petition by 38 Degrees stopped it, otherwise we would have even worse problems.
Flooding does not just cause people to lose their homes, but also results in unsafe electrics, harm to people and wildlife and pets, and huge insurance costs. Then often people move in, and it floods again. Caroline Lucas said that people don’t want Boris Johnson turning up to offer help with a mop, they want policy changes to prevent floods. Likewise, Royal visits by those who go grouse-shooting would be better served by not grouse-shooting (which helps to cause the floods in the first place).
- The Superpower Field Guide to Beavers is a fun book introducing us to one of nature’s super-heroes. Beavers love to build dams, and are at the forefront of helping us to prevent floods. This colour book doles out facts with humour, to have everyone falling in love. Wild beavers just ‘live’ to build dams (it’s what they do!), so this is a great example of using the wisdom of nature, to help.
- Floodsax sandless bags fill with water to make instant sandbags. They require no heavy lifting, can mould to shape doors, and are easily disposed of, without pollution. One Yorkshire warehouse prevented £360K of damage, by switching.
- Plant more trees! The removal of millions of trees has been instrumental in causing more floods. So get involved in local volunteering programs with The Conservation Volunteers. If planting trees in gardens, see make your garden safe for pets to know toxic trees, mulch and plants to avoid (many trees like yew and oak are also toxic to horses).