Daily Telegraph puts negative spin on positive pheasant report

Gameshooting is good for the environment, but could do better. That’s the conclusion of a review by the English government.

The newly-launched review Ecological Consequences of Gamebird Releasing and Management on Lowland Shoots in England concludes that banning shooting would result in a ‘decrease in beneficial effects’. In a swipe at the big, commercial shoots, it also warns that ‘poor or excessive’ game management increases ‘damaging effects’.

However, a report in the Daily Telegraph shows that anti-shooting elements in government are keen to spin the review as evidence for a ban. Reporter Helena Horton writes that the review is a warning from Natural England that what Horton calls the ‘game bird industry’ ‘must change’ to ‘protect the environment’. Careful reading of the review reveals that there is no such call.

The report front cover

Horton goes on to claim that the review says gamebirds ‘threaten rare native birds’. On the contrary, the review found only ‘weaker, less or more ambiguous evidence that the released birds … posed a direct competition to non-game species’.

The Telegraph points out the review comes after months of nagging and legal threats by BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham and his Wild Justice group, which last year pressured Natural England into revoking some pest control licences and this year has been attacking gamebird release. The Telegraph concludes the review could influence a debate in parliament about game bird releases triggered by Wild Justice.

The review does not call for change, however – only that gamekeepers and estate owners keep following “best practices”, according to a Natural England spokesman quoted in the newspaper. If there are negative environmental effects, the review says, they can easily be fixed with more predator control, extra feeding stations for the birds, which could be released in a wider area.

Writing in his blog, Mark Avery of Wild Justice says the government paper, “is the first public response to the science of the Wild Justice legal challenge”.

He adds: “I’ll be reading it carefully over the weekend [22-23 August 2020], as will the rest of the Wild Justice team including our lawyers. I imagine we’ll have something to say about it some time next week.”

Methodology used in the paper (click for full graphic)

Written by academics Dr Joah Madden of Exeter University and the GWCT’s head of lowland gamebird research Rufus Sage, and released jointly by Natural England and BASC, the review is a ‘report of reports’. Madden and Sage scoured more than 3,000 papers about the release and shooting of pheasant, red-legged partridges and mallard in the UK.

The Telegraph story also quotes BASC’s Executive Director of Conservation Caroline Bedell, who says: “Shooting is an overall net positive, especially when including the social and economic benefits.”

The Daily Telegraph story

The review comes out before a report commissioned by the RSPB, due out in October, which is widely expected to call for a ban on the release of gamebirds in the UK.

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