No releases of reared birds for shooting

The shooting industry rears and releases as many as 40 million Common Pheasants and 10 million Red-legged Partridges into the countryside every year.

Both are non-native species here, they can be environmentally-damaging, and they are bred solely to be shot out of the air.

While Protect the Wild wants to see the end of all shooting of birds for so-called ‘sport’ or as ‘pests’,  the rearing and releasing of millions of Common Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges is a major concern.

Many of these birds are imported from intensive rearing facilities in Poland, France, and Spain where poor welfare standards have been documented. Much as in the poultry industry, young birds are often restrained and unable to demonstrate natural behaviours.

  • Facilities are located in regions where Avian Flu has been recorded, risking the spread of a serious disease that has decimated wild bird populations across Europe and Britain.
  • Young birds are packed in boxes and have to endure long journeys to the UK, typically (following threats to boycott ferry companies transporting birds for shooting) arriving on trucks crossing the Channel through the Eurotunnel (sometimes mislabelled to get around customs checks, according to investigators).
  • Once in the UK they are reared in pens. Two of our recent investigations have discovered appalling welfare conditions in pens, with birds trapped in netting, filthy water, and dying of disease. This may or may not be the norm, but any incident of mistreatment is one too many.
  • Because of partial import bans new operators are setting up their own breeding facilities. Many have no experience and horror stories abound about just how difficult rearing birds actually is.
  • Rearing birds in pens naturally attract predators who see them as an easy food source. Huge numbers of traps and snares are used to ‘protect’ birds from foxes, weasels, and stoats, and there are increasing demands for licences to kill Buzzards (a fully-protected bird of prey formerly almost eradicated by gamekeepers). No registry of the number or species of animals killed is kept or published.
  • So many pheasants and partridges are released that at the start of the shooting ‘season’ in the autumn that they are equivalent to half the total biomass of the UK’s birds.
  • Once birds are released into the countryside they compete with native birds for scarce resources. Pheasants have been recorded eating Slow Worms and other protected reptiles and amphibians. The UK is already recognised as one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries – introducing millions of non-native birds here is nonsensical.
  • So many pheasants are released that many die in potentially dangerous collisions with vehicles. Pheasants are 13 times more likely to die on roads than other birds, and almost 7% of all roadkill on Britain’s roads involve pheasants. Roadkill often provides food for foxes and crows – the very same animals that the shooting industry relentlessly target and kill because they say they’re ‘too common’.
  • As more upland estates fail to ‘produce enough’ Red Grouse for their ‘clients’, they are turning to rearing pheasants instead. Increasing numbers are being released into the moorlands of upland Britain, sensitive and important habitats that should be protected from mass releases of birds just to be shot.
  • In October 2020 Defra (the government department responsible for the environment) acknowledged the damage that released birds might do (especially if released near protected sites or nature reserves) and added both the Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which contains species which cause ecological, environmental or socio-economic harm.
  • In early September the RSPB asked the government to ban the release of so-called ‘game birds’ into the countryside to stop the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 or Avian Flu. On the 22nd of September, ITV News reported that ‘…for the first time this year pheasants in Cornwall, Cheshire and Norfolk have tested positive for the H5N1 virus’. Chief veterinary officers from England, Scotland and Wales declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across the whole of Great Britain on October 17th 2022 but there has still been no ban on the release of birds for shooting.
  • Shoots sell ‘pegs’ (where shooters stand to kill birds as they are driven towards them) to all-comers. Experience is not mandatory and so-called ‘game licences’ to kill or take pheasants and partridges are not required in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
  • Inexperienced shooters are inhibiting the recovery of the Red Listed Grey Partridge. Dr Francis Buner, of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), acknowledged in January 2021 that “large-scale releasing of red-legs are usually the end of any wild grey population…because they are accidentally shot out by the guns who are unable to tell the difference”.
  • While shooters claim that birds are killed instantly, in fact many birds are wounded rather than being killed outright which causes unnecessary pain and suffering.
  • By providing millions of live targets the shooting industry actively encourages people to cause more harm than they otherwise would – a morally indefensible position.

There is no justification whatsoever for the rearing and release of Common Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges.

From egg to adult the lives of millions of birds are determined by an industry that only sees them as items to be sold to shooters.

 Releasing enormous numbers of pheasants and partridges has been described as an ‘ecological assault on the countryside’.

Polling consistently shows that a majority of the public are opposed to shooting live birds for ‘sport’. Above all else it is cruel and completely unnecessary.

Take action

Send a letter to the UK's Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - direct from our website straight to their inbox...

You can get involved and send a letter to the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to stop the release of Common Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges in to the countryside for sport.

Click the link below to send the letter direct from our website to their inbox.

Shooting Petitions and Demands

Add pheasants to
Alien Species Order
Ban shooting of
Red-listed species
No public subsidy of
Shotgun Licenses
No releases of
Reared Birds
No grouse moor
'Licensing Lifeline'
Register all animals
Trapped or Snared