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Does the shooting industry spread disease?

Wild animals get get sick, of course, but intensively reared, stressed animals are especially susceptible to disease (as an aside it’s estimated that 73% of all the antibiotics used globally are given to farmed animals, leading to serious concerns of widespread antibiotic resistance).

Shooting depends on rearing as many birds as they can, as cheaply as they can. Overcrowding causes stress which weakens the birds immune system and to diseases that spread through close contact.

The notifiable Newcastle Disease (an acute respiratory disease) was first reported in the UK in 1963 in pheasants, for example. Bacteria like mycoplasma (which causes ‘bulgy eye’) are spreading and causing immense suffering in pheasants and partridges. On grouse shooting estates, where wild grouse may be at up to ten times their natural densities, birds also suffer with ‘bulgy eye’ and respiratory cryptosporidiosis. Moorland estates routinely put out trays of medicated grit containing a de-wormer (reportedly at ten times the strength that would be licenced elsewhere) to control a threadworm which causes strongylosis, a disease that has driven grouse population cycles, with crashes in Red Grouse numbers every few years.

Moorland gamekeepers also kill thousands of Mountain Hares every year to ‘control’ another – potentially fatal – disease that affects grouse called louping Ill. They blame Mountain Hares for carrying the sheep tick that hosts the louping ill virus, though no research has shown a link between grouse numbers and numbers of hares.

Perhaps the most serious disease risk though comes from highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 or Avian Flu.

A near-global outbreak that began in 2022 has killed untold numbers of wild birds including important populations of seabirds here in the UK. The shooting industry annually imports most of the millions of pheasants and Red-legged Partridges its supporters shoot from intensive rearing sites in regions of France where Avian Flu has been reported. A precautionary stance saw shoots across the UK being shut down or scaled back because of import bans on reared birds, much to the fury of the Countryside Alliance who bitterly complained of ‘woke’ organisations threatening their fun.

We can not allow birds to suffer in this way, or allow the shooting industry to potentially introduce a disease that could decimate our wild birds.

We will continue to fund undercover operations that show the impact of disease on birds reared by the industry and will campaign to ban the import of birds reared to be shot.

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Protect the Wild works to end Hunting and Shooting in the UK