PHEASANT SHOOTING: A special report
In the first part of this special Animal Aid report, we describe the shooting industry in Britain today.
Pheasant shooting industry leaders forced to admit: 'Greed and excess are tearing us apart'
So many pheasants are being factory-reared in order to satisfy the base instincts of a new breed of vain and boastful gunman, that millions of birds are going uneaten. The pro-shooting press itself has reported that some are buried in specially-dug holes in order to dispose of the embarrassing evidence of excess. Huge numbers also end up mown down by traffic.
This is the wretched picture of modern 'sport shooting' in Britain, as described by several of the industry's own leading lobbyists, writing recently in magazines for fellow gun enthusiasts. One wrote despairingly of 'Britain's game mountain'. In fact, greed, macho posturing and a callous disregard for the lives of their quarry and for the wider environment are jeopardising the future of the commercial pheasant rearing and shooting industry, according to these shooting advocates.
The image of 'game' shooting presented to the world at large is one of self-discipline and respect for the countryside. But in the wake of a crisis meeting last February of the 'sport's' leading figures, Animal Aid - which last September produced a landmark exposé of the industry - can report that a series of highly damaging admissions have followed in the pages of specialist journals such as Shooting Times, The Countryman, Country Life and The Field.
Unlike grouse, who are born and killed in the wild, pheasants are 'mass produced' in industrial hatcheries and fattened in sheds like commercial chickens, before being beaten up into the sky to be shot down for pleasure. It is now acknowledged that millions of these birds go uneaten - there is no market for them.
Production levels, it is admitted, are geared towards serving the vanity of 'instant shooting man', who imagines that blasting birds out of the sky will enhance his social standing and who likes to boast on Monday morning in the office about the size of his bag. These shooters might be responsible for personally downing dozens of barely-airborne birds. But they often don't bother taking home for consumption any of their quarry.
The consequences of such over-production include 'crop damage, soil erosion round release pens and a greatly increased risk of disease' within the rearing sheds, according to an editorial in Country Life magazine. (Feb 1, 2001).
In response to the evidence assembled by Animal Aid, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker commented:
'Most people believe that shooting is about killing a bird for the pot. This is no longer the case.
'Today it is about blasting birds out of the sky for some kind of twisted pleasure. This gluttony of firepower is killing huge numbers of birds and causing environmental damage.
'Even shooters themselves are now expressing concern about these bloated and unsustainable practices. Moreover, these practices are bringing shooting into disrepute. Traditional shooters are being swamped by the new style of braggarts who feel that more birds killed means the more there is to brag about.'
One man who has first-hand experience of the damage and mayhem caused by this wanton slaughter is West Country woodlands owner, Theo Hopkins. Mr Hopkins told Animal Aid:
'Once I was a 'townie' and thought shooting was a respectable and even humane country sport. Now, after eight years of first renting my