RSPB calls for immediate moratorium on release of gamebirds for shooting
The RSPB is calling for an immediate moratorium on the release of game birds and wildfowl for shooting across the UK this summer and autumn.
The urgent call is for governments and the hunting industry to take a fully precautionary approach to the release of potentially infected captive birds, to limit the further spread of avian influenza in wild birds.
Powys is the most densely populated area of Wales for driven pheasant shooting and three of the five locations in Wales where avian influenza has been detected – in Welshpool, Newtown and Crickhowell, are in the county.
Across the UK, every year around 55 million pheasants and red-legged partridges and 2.6 million mallard ducks are specially reared in captivity and then released into the UK countryside to be shot for sport.
Many of these birds are imported from across Europe then held in pens to mature prior to release
The volume of released birds represents more than the total biomass of all UK native birds.
Pheasants in the UK have tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) – first in Lincolnshire in 2018 and a further thirteen times since, on three premises with commercial breeding game for release.
RSPB believes that to limit the “catastrophic impacts” of this outbreak on wild birds, the deliberate release of captive birds into the countryside must be stopped for this year.
Jeff Knott, RSPB’s Director of Policy, said: “In recent months we have witnessed an unfolding catastrophe taking place on our wild birds.
“It has been emotionally tough to witness, but we are not helpless and there are many positive actions that we can take to help them weather this storm and reduce the risk of exacerbating this crisis.
“This disease originated in poultry in Asia before passing into wild birds. It is another human pressure on beleaguered wildlife across the world and in the UK specifically.
“We must all now take responsibility and do everything we can to limit the impact in the immediate term, and to implement and fund species conservation programmes to build resilience in our wildlife for the future.”
Although spread from pheasants to wild birds has not yet been confirmed scientifically, this route of transmission has not yet been fully investigated.
According to the UK Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), transmission between pheasants and wild bird is possible: multiple other pathogens and diseases have been shown proven to pass to wild birds from pheasants, often at pheasant feeding stations.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is currently having an unprecedented impact on wild birds in the UK.
The current outbreak is the longest and most severe ever seen and many tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of wild birds have already died.
Seabirds have been hit especially hard this summer, with both adult birds perishing and near total breeding failure of some globally important colonies.
To date this outbreak has been primarily focussed in coastal areas, but the RSPB warns that if transmission were to occur as a result of gamebird or wildfowl releases, cases could rapidly become much more widespread, especially across inland areas, amplifying what is already a catastrophe in sea and coastal birds.
Responding to the RSPB’s call for a moratorium, Glynn Evans, head of game and gundogs from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) said: “For a national conservation charity, this political grandstanding campaign shows a fundamental lack of understanding of avian influenza, the Government’s strategies to combat it or how gamebird release is managed.
“The RSPB has failed to present a single piece of evidence to support their call and has chosen to ignore the substantial role shooting plays in the countryside.
“Shooting is worth £2 billion to the UK economy, providing the equivalent of 74,000 full-time jobs. It is a significant contributor to conservation, rural jobs and the local economy.
“This year’s outbreak of avian influenza is of serious concern and BASC and other representatives of the shooting sector have been working closely with Defra, the devolved administrations and a wide range of stakeholders to ensure all necessary actions to reduce the transmission of avian flu are taken.
“The RSPB would better serve their members by doing likewise.”
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