Poll: Do you agree that shooting pheasants is good for the countryside?

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The UK’s managed shoot industry, which sees millions of pheasants raised and shot every year, has received support from an unexpected quarter.

In a blog published on the website of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, its director Martin Harper has praised the role of managed shoots in protecting wildlife.

“The contribution progressive shoots can make to supporting wildlife is significant, and we are delighted to help them further,” Harper wrote. “This isn’t a contradiction. We simply do whatever nature needs and will work with anyone that wants to help wildlife.”

RSPB said the impact of managed shoots could be 'very positive' Photo: Alamy
said the impact of managed shoots could be ‘very positive’ Photo: Alamy

His views might come as a surprise to some of the RSPB’s 1.1 million members, who would have been persuaded by its original pledge “to discourage the wanton destruction of birds”; they would equally have been a surprise to the RSPB’s detractors in the world.
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“It’s too simplistic to say that the RSPB is anti-shooting because that’s wrong,” Harper told the Observer. “It’s more sophisticated than that. We are ready to work with landowners and farmers to look after farmland wildlife.”

Harper argues that the RSPB has been misunderstood, pointing out that it has always been neutral on the ethics of shooting birds.

South Dakota Pheasant Hunting

“Our charitable objectives are all about the conservation of species,” he said. “We are not an animal welfare organisation. Our primary interest is stopping common species becoming rare. We don’t really have a mandate for the conservation of non-native species.”

In his blog, Harper argued that managed shoots could “provide beneficial habitat management for wildlife”, including woodland sky-lighting, planting cover crops and creating conservation headlands. He quoted figures from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust showing that shoots create or maintain 7,000 hectares of hedgerows and 100,000 hectares of copses.

South Dakota Pheasant Hunting

Native to Asia, arrived in the British Isles around the 10th century, disappeared in the 17th century and returned 200 years later, since when the exotic visitor has been bred and hunted with metronomic regularity.
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The British Association for Shooting and Conservation professed itself happy that the days of disagreement were disappearing. “When organisations are prepared to put evidence before opinion and long-term conservation goals before short-term politicised campaigning, then there is much common ground to be found,” said BASC spokesman Simon Clarke.

Despite the fence-building between the two sides, they are still divided by many issues, not least the fate of the pheasants that survive the shoot. The RSPB says that 50 million pheasants survive and are released into the every year, an exercise that Harper describes as “a great experiment”; the BASC puts the figure at 35 million.

Rob Yorke has a foot in each camp. The rural commentator and nature surveyor is a member of both the RSPB and the BASC, and an advocate for what he terms the “unfashionable middle ground”.

“It isn’t a wildlife-human conflict,” he argues, “it’s a human-human conflict. Protagonists from both sides are going at each other and the loser is biodiversity. We all need each other. The conservation organisations need farmers to carry on running the shoots because that will deliver the widest amount of biodiversity across the countryside. The NGOs have to keep trying to work with farmers, but the farmers have to trust them and trust that they are not out to get them, and to let them on to their land.”

Gamekeeper Tim Boxall looks wistful. Gazing across the woodland he rents in Gloucestershire, he is envisaging wild pheasants roaming across the land. “If you get a wild brood of pheasants, you look at them and you think, well, that’s lovely.” Then he turns to business. “If there wasn’t any shoots and gamekeepers the pheasants would die out. It’s no different to farming: you breed them and then people come and harvest them.”

Marlow, who as a self-employed gamekeeper is something of a rare bird himself, raises 10,000 pheasants each year on the 600 acres he rents in Gloucestershire. By the end of the four-month shooting season on 1 February, he had hosted 25-30 shooting parties, each made up of eight “guns”, and 30% of the pheasants were shot. He gestures with enthusiasm at the byproducts of the shoot.

“This bramble and this grass coming through, that’s lovely now,” he says. “It’s good for me, good for the wildlife, good for everything.” He lists the songbirds he finds on his land: blue tits, yellowhammer, blackbirds. In among the ash and beech are snowberry bushes he has planted to provide shelter for the pheasants and, coincidentally, other wildlife. “This wood has been thinned by 50%. Otherwise it would be a dark wood, but we thinned it to create the cover. Gamekeepers are good for the countryside. Someone has to be in control of it because if not the strongest will take over.”

We invite you to share your opinion whether shooting pheasants is good for the countryside. Please vote and leave your comments at the bottom of this page.

Do you agree that shooting pheasants is good for the countryside?

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This article was first published by The Guardian on 30 Mar 2015.

 

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Dave Barnes

Oh Nicholas, are you serious? Sky Lark and Lapwing decline are both from changes in farming practices and land management, nothing to do with Birds of Prey, typical farmers response. Farmers pursuit of profits at any cost are why we are losing all our insectivorous birds – period.

Stewart Love

"Good for the countryside" No way, exactly the opposite. other wildlife gets culled so that more Pheasants/Grouse etc are available for shooting. Raptors are poisoned, shot, eggs trampled, nest sites burnt out by those Guardians of the countryside, "Game Keepers" and their Employers the Landowners.

Rhian Evans

I am pleasantly surprised at the result! Shame on the RSPB though!!

Kathy Foster
Kathy Foster

Nice to see that the general public have common sense.

Shena Louise

I think the results speak for themselves. Leave them alone.

Harry Burton
Harry Burton

As for the RSPB, I would not support them any more than I support the New Zealand Forest and Bird Society (formerly the NZRSPB), which not only supports killing non native birds but also supports the aerial drops of 1080 over pristine areas of our countryside; a poison that is banned in other countries! So much for the clean and green image that is promoted in tourist brochures – 100% purekill New Zealand!!!

Harry Burton
Harry Burton

They breed the pheasants so that they can shoot them. Let's face it, they shoot the pheasants for the same reason they shoot anything, because they enjoy killing!

Michele Grainger

No I don’t agree and I don’t eat game !

Wendy Lea
Wendy Lea

Shooting any wild life for sport is wrong. The shooting industry don't care about wildlife it's all about money.

Austin Bierma

Yes they actually do care about the wildlife. why else do they set limits to what we can shoot?

Paul Ruddoch

I’ve seen places where they raise pheasants, they are kept in wire cages only ever being released to be shot. I am not anti shooting but I am anti something being raised just to cull!

Debbie Channing
Debbie Channing

What's good about it when ALL wildlife suffers at the hands of these killers?

Debbie Channing
Debbie Channing

Landowners raise pheasants to shoot and kill..All wildlife that are a threat to these 'game' birds is killed also…so all wildlife suffers not just the ' game birds' it is neither natural or kind

Linda French

This is a disgrace…shooting birds and game in the UK is out of control

Iain Gibson

The RSPB at Directorate level is so out of touch it's hard to believe. They're also being blatantly political in their drive to cosy up to the landed gentry and political establishment. Historically, the anomaly regarding their 'neutral' policy towards shooting was more to do with being granted a Royal Charter than it was to do with any ethical decision. Currently they are suffering considerable pressure from the right-wing conservative hunting lobby over the bird of prey issue, hence the timing of this announcement. It's pathetic. I admire most of the work done by RSPB, and they employ some excellent… Read more »

Julie Bunting Dixon
Julie Bunting Dixon

No. Gamekeepers shoot foxes and hawks to protect the pheasants; some of them will also shoot your dog. They spout about what they are doing for conservation but the bottom line is: It's a business. You charge up to £1000 per gun so obviously you will go all out to protect your 'product'. It's all about the money.

Helen Wood

Only the very stupid would think that wrecking an ecosystem to provide a lot of helpless birds to be shot for the entertainment of perverts is good for anyone or anything.

Kerry Feral
Kerry Feral

No not in any way shape or form. Importing none native birds en mass creates competition for our native species. They are a menace for drivers. They are damaging to our predatory species of birds and mammals. Building a home for them before they kill them is no justification even if some other wildlife benefits from it. It's like saying Savile's charity work is justification for his abuse.

Pierre Gagnaux
Pierre Gagnaux

Then, when you say as human race, why don't organise human hunting then ?

Pierre Gagnaux
Pierre Gagnaux

Nothing can be good when you take life at anybody outside hunters and poachers !

Goldi Muencz

i hate all this killers

Adrian Fox

Rather like the old worn out argument in support of hunting with dogs, we are asked to believe that landowners will only protect the countryside in pursuance of their sports and profit. Retaining landscape cover, hedgerows and field margins has largely become something which is paid for by the taxpayer and enforced through legislation. I am not against shooting per se, but I fail to understand why semi-tame birds like pheasants, which I often approach here and can almost pick up, have to be reared just to be killed. Every Monday after the Sunday shoot here in France, I walk… Read more »

Terence Hale

Hi,
“Poll: Do you agree that shooting pheasants is good for the countryside?” . No. Shooting pheasants is a traditional sport of the wealthy British land owners and is not contemporary with modern thinking.

Nicholas Watts

Estates and Farmers do a lot of good for wildlife on with game shooting activities but I believe that all this reared game provides Foxes, badgers and buzzards with a surplus of food and any bird or animal that has a surplus of food will increase in numbers, you only have to look at the human race to see this as an example. With these three species being around in large numbers , they are decimating our ground nesting birds such as Lapwings and Skylarks.

Paul Seligman
Paul Seligman

You ask the wrong question.

It's not shooting pheasants that's teh problem. In fact, shooting them all woudl be excellent for most other wildlife.

The problem is breeding more for future release. Stopping that woudl be good.

Austin Bierma

I completely disagree! Pheasants are helpful to humans! Most hunters use the birds for food! Yes, we should breed them for release because it will give people more food and pheasants also give other animals food. I think we should be allowed to hunt them because no one hunts birds just to watch them fall to the ground and just leave them there! We all use them for food