Fowl Play - Introduction
Every year in Britain, around 35 million pheasants are mass-produced like commercial poultry so that they can be shot down by wealthy 'guns', who commonly pay £1,000 per day for the 'privilege'.
In an effort to eliminate the bird-on-bird aggression caused by the crowded conditions in the rearing sheds and release pens, gamekeepers fit the pheasants with various devices. These restrict their vision and prevent them from pecking at their cagemates. They even have the ends of their beaks burnt or sliced off.
Large numbers of pheasants inevitably attract - and, in fact, boost the populations of - predator species such as stoats, weasels, foxes and members of the crow family. Gamekeepers deliberately kill them by setting traps and snares. But species ranging from badgers to cats and dogs - even protected birds of prey like owls and kestrels - are caught and killed. Millions of animals are slaughtered every year in these 'predator control' programmes.
Because of the enfeeblement that results from being reared in sheds, around half of the pheasants die before they can be gunned down.
They perish from exposure, starvation, disease, predation, or under the wheels of motor vehicles. And given that a small group of shooters can kill up to 500 birds a day, many of the victims are not actually eaten. According to an editorial in Country Life magazine (February 1, 2001) some of the 'surplus' is buried in specially dug holes. Added to these casualties are the numerous unretrieved birds who die slowly from their gunshot wounds, out of sight of the guns.
The basic animal protection laws in the UK decree that an offence is committed when an animal is subjected to 'unnecessary suffering'. There are many views on what constitutes unnecessary suffering. At one end of the spectrum is the pain animals endure undergoing veterinary treatments designed to advance or preserve their health. At the opposite pole, in Animal Aid's view, is the bird shooting industry where purpose-bred animals are shot for pleasure. The suffering experienced by these birds, while they are being fattened for the kill and as they repeatedly run the gauntlet of the guns, cannot plausibly be justified as 'necessary'.
In Holland, producing birds for 'sport shooting' was first curbed in 1986 and outlawed entirely in 2002. The action was taken because the practice was judged to be morally and environmentally unsupportable. We have set out in this report the case for a similar ban to be introduced into Britain.
Click here for part 2 of Fowl Play, in which we describe how pheasants are produced and shot.