Gun lobby persuades Government to kill off game bird welfare law

The government has acceded to the wishes of shooting groups and scrapped plans that would have freed millions of pheasants from small cages.

Jim Paice, the new farming minister, withdrew a new code of practice for the welfare of Britain's 40 million game birds last month after pressure from country sports organisations including the Game Farmers' Association and the Countryside Alliance.

His predecessor Jim Fitzpatrick placed the code before Parliament in May, in one of the last acts of the Labour government. It set out minimum space requirements for breeding birds.

Mr Paice, who killed it off days before it would have come into force, is expected to introduce a revised code within two months, without rules that would force farmers to use larger ground pens instead of raised wire cages.

Pro-hunting groups welcomed the move, saying they were confident the revised code would "address welfare concerns without imposing unjustified restrictions on game farmers". The RSPCA complained that the move meant birds would remain in cramped, unnatural conditions and is urging its members to protest to MPs.

Mr Paice's decision is the latest twist in a long-running controversy over the intensive rearing of pheasants and partridges for shooting. Although many people assume the semi-wild animals are reared on farmland, they only spend their last few weeks roaming around on moors after being bred and kept on specialist farms.

Two years ago the Farm Animal Welfare Council, the Government's veterinary advisers, expressed concern about breeding birds in barren wire mesh cages suspended from the ground. It also criticised the placing in their mouths of plastic "bits" to stop cannibalistic behaviour in the confined space and especially the use of mask-like contraptions called "bumpa-bits". "Birds were kept in a barren environment on wire floors, with minimal opportunity for seclusion," the report said. "Design appeared to be influenced more by cost and manufacturing requirements than welfare."

In March the Labour government published a Code of Practice for the Welfare of Game Birds that dropped a requirement to ban the cages, but specified a pheasant must have a square metre of space and a grey partridge half a square metre, together with guidance on space for perches and exercise. It also banned "bumpa-bits".

The RSPCA said, in effect, the code would have banned small cages and exposed any farmer using them to potential prosecution under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. Farmers would have had to keep pheasants and partidges in larger pens built over natural ground.

When the Government was elected, five shooting organisations wrote to the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The Game Farmer's Association warned the new code would have affected 43 per cent of partridge and 6 per cent of pheasant production, leaving game rearers facing "chaos and bills running to millions of pounds" and forcing production to unregulated overseas operators. At the end of May, Defra removed the code from its website. At a confidential meeting of its Gamebird Working Group on 7 June, Mr Paice said the code was being withdrawn, indicating the ban on bumpa-bits would be kept and the space requirements dropped.

Alice Clark, senior scientific officer at the RSPCA, said: "We are extremely concerned it was withdrawn, because ... the version laid before Parliament offered a number of improvements for game birds, specifically on cages."

The game bird industry

*British farms rear 40 million game birds annually.

*Most are pheasants (30 to 35 million), but there are 5-10 million partridges.

*Grouse are not reared on farms: they live wild all year round on moors in Scotland, northern England and Wales.

*Pheasant and partridge are semi-wild. They can only fly short distances.

*Breeding partridge are kept in pairs in raised wire mesh cages.

*Breeding pheasants are kept in cages in groups, typically of one cock and six hens.

*70,000 jobs are said to depend on the game shooting industry and it is claimed to be worth £1.6bn to the UK economy.

*There are up 7,000 shoots registered to release pheasants, 3,000 for partridge.

*The pheasant and partridge shooting season lasts from 1 October to 1 February in England, Scotland and Wales.

*The grouse season begins on 12 August and runs to 10 December.

Sources: Defra, Farm Animal Welfare Council, RSPCA

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
    Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

    Election 2015

    Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
    Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

    Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

    The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
    The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

    The US is getting frayed at the edges

    Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
    Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

    New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

    A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
    Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
    Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

    Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

    Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
    Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

    Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

    He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
    How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

    Celebrating 100 years of Leica

    A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world