Millions of pheasants 'subjected to cruelty'

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The shooting lobby has been accused of causing unnecessary cruelty and suffering to 20 million pheasants, reared each year to be shot as game.

The shooting lobby has been accused of causing unnecessary cruelty and suffering to 20 million pheasants, reared each year to be shot as game.

Animal rights campaigners say the pheasants are held in intensive, battery-style farms and subjected to inhumane treatment including wing-tying, beak-clipping and the use of plastic bits to prevent beaks closing. In a report yesterday called The Killing Fields, Animal Aid also accused shooters of ignoring the sport's voluntary code of conduct by failing to kill wounded birds quickly.

An undercover video film shows maimed pheasants flailing around in puddles, streams and on roads, and being dismembered while alive by game dogs. The video also claims intensive farming deeply distresses the young birds.

The group is launching a campaign linked to the start of this year's shooting season on 1 October. It will focus on the 25 department stores run by the John Lewis Partnership in demonstrations that could spread to include the firm's Waitrose supermarkets.

John Lewis allows its staff to run a pheasant and partridge shooting club on its 3,000-acre Leckford farming estate in Hampshire, which was donated to the company in the 1920s by its founder, SpedanLewis. About 5,000 pheasants reared on the farm are shot each season.

Andrew Tyler, the director of Animal Aid, claimed the number of pheasants raised, which could be as high as 36 million a year, and the intensive rearing methods meant the sport had developed into an industry.

But, because it was classified as a sport, nobody knew whether the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) or the Home Office was responsible for policing welfare and quality standards. He said large quantities of antibiotics and chemicals, including one banned for wider use by the European Union, were administered to control disease in the rearing units. Gamekeepers also trapped and poisoned thousands of rare birds of prey, foxes, badgers and other wild animals to protect pheasants released for shooting, the group alleged.

Mr Tyler said: "This isfactory-farming allied to a blood sport. What I find particularly sickening is that they'refactory-farmed, released for two months, then beaten into the sky and shot down."

Bill Tyrwhitt-Drake, a farmer in Hampshire and chairman of the industry-wide Code of Good Shooting Practice, contested Animal Aid's figures.

He said its claim that up to 75,000 tonnes of lead shot were discharged each year were a "laughable" over-estimate but admitted the industry had no accurate idea of how many birds were raised and shot. He insisted the industry was properly run and that nearly all shooters observed the code, although it was voluntary and unpoliced.

"Game farms are amazingly efficient, very healthy set-ups. If they aren't, they will get disease and they will have losses, which would be very expensive," he said. "Everybody is told their first duty is to pick up a wounded bird and that's why they employ pickers-up with three to five dogs each."

A John Lewis spokesman said shooting at Leckford was confined to about two dozen staff and their guests, with the estate observing the highest possible standards of care.

The company believed that because the sport was legal, its staff should be allowed the freedom to pursue it.

"We don't want to impress one particular view on people," he said.

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