Ban on pheasant shooting on public land in Wales came into effect in March
Pheasant shooting on the Welsh Government Woodland Estate (WGWE) ended on 1 March 2019. The decision not to renew leases for three pheasant shoots on four woodland areas was taken in September 2018 by Natural Resource Wales (NRW), the public body responsible for managing Welsh public land. It came after a letter from the Labour-led Welsh Government to NRW backed the results of a public consultation that revealed that the vast majority of Welsh people favoured a ban.
Animal Aid (AA) is one of the UK’s longest established and largest animal rights groups. AA investigations in 2015, which pushed NRW to consult the public on whether to allow shooting on its land, and in 2017 were undertaken to find out if gamebird shoots on NRW land adhered to the 2006 Animal Welfare Act Code of Practice. The investigations revealed numerous breaches of the code. In 2017, 35-40 dead pheasant poults were found in a release enclosure at Cwn Gwnen. Four other birds had died after becoming stuck between two sections of wire.
AA concluded: “NRW can’t ensure that shoots operating on its land adhere to the Code of Practice.” With other AA investigations at private game farms having revealed that pheasants were, contrary to the law, being held in barren cages, the animal rights group contended that NRW was also unable to ensure that birds brought in by shoots from game farms adhered to the code.
The NRW review received 4,700 responses from the public and 76% of those wanted a ban on shooting birds on its land.
When the NRW board, which includes members of pro-shooter organisations, met in July 2018 it had before it a letter from the Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn, the Welsh Labour Assembly member for Delyn.
Blythyn stated “we need to take account of public views in considering what happens on the Welsh government estate…given the wider policy issues and concerns, the Welsh Government does not support commercial pheasant shooting, or the breeding of gamebirds or the birds being held in hiding pens on the estate prior to release on the WGWE.”
Nevertheless, the NRW board, who are appointed by Welsh Government Ministers, decided not to introduce a ban. Pressure from bodies such as the Countryside Alliance and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation to maintain the status quo included unproven claims that shooting birds is worth £75 million to the Welsh economy and supports the equivalent of 2,400 full-time jobs.
A NRW paper itself had made reference to a report by the operators of Bettws Hall Sporting Estates in Montgomeryshire that they employed 7 full time staff and 23 part-time staff and contributed £500,000 to the local economy. However, when the report authors were asked about how many staff were solely dedicated to shoots on NRW land it was clear no information was available.
On 20 September 2018 the NRW board finally agreed to stop shooting on its land.
“Good for the Welsh Government for having stepped in to ensure that animal cruelty has no place on public land….NRW now has the opportunity to use that land for positive, educational, conservation and leisure activities that are inclusive and that are kind to animals and to the environment. We hope that NRW will become a role model to other public bodies that also want to bring about an end to the shooting of birds,” said Fiona Pereira, Campaign manager at Animal Aid.
Pereira pointed out that 50 million pheasants and partridges are purpose-bred — many on huge factory farms — for the shooting industry annually. Participants on some shoots are charged in excess of £2000 each for the ‘pleasure’ of slaughtering these defenceless birds.