I’ve probably mentioned before that I have a background in fieldsports. While I’ve never done any shooting myself, I have attended plenty of shoots, been a beater on several, and have eaten roast pheasant, partridge and duck afterwards. More importantly, I have witnessed firsthand how shooting can preserve and even restore habitat that would otherwise be lost. I am a born and raised countryman with a healthy appreciation of shooting and its contribution to conservation.
However, this doesn’t give shooting a get-out-of-jail free card in my eyes; like any other industry, it sometimes needs a reality check. And such is the case recently, when Wild Justice, the organisation founded by Chris Packham and Mark Avery, requested a study into into the impact of non-native gamebirds on Britain’s native wildlife. This was in response to the revelation that an estimated thirty-five million pheasants and six million red-legged partridge are released into the countryside each year, but the proposal generated an unbelievable amount of backlash, including claims the proposal was”anti-shooting” and Packham accused of attempting to “cause chaos to rural lives”. So, as a supporter of this proposal with experience with game shooting, I feel that my opinion would be worth sharing.
So why do I support a scientific investigation into the release of pheasants and red-legged partridge for shooting? One word: quantity. Historically, game shooting had justifed its presence on the grounds that it provides a sustainable, low-carbon source of meat, while preserving wildlife in the process. And for the most part, I agree with this.
However, both these points are undermined by the fact that just two non-native gamebird species are released into the countryside in numbers that rival the total avifauna of Britain. It seems extremely unlikely that this practice has no environmental impact or that every one of these birds ends up eaten. Indeed, not only have mass burials of pheasants been unearthed on estates, but even the recent GWCT study on pheasant shooting raised concern about the impact that large releases could have.
This study would simply give us more clarity about whether this practice impacts Britain’s ecology, and if so in what ways. Even if it turned out to have no impact, it would still be important that we carried out a scientific study, so that we can make informed policies about game shooting, and therefore ensure that the industry is benefiting our country’s wildlife.
If we truly care about shooting and want it to provide for conservation, as I do, scientific surveys such as those proposed by Wild Justice are crucial in showing us how to do it.