Dead pheasants hung from a railing

The vile Pheasant shooting ‘season’ has started

With barely a press release or salivating media article, the pheasant shooting ‘season’ has started again in the UK. Over the next few months (until 1st of February) the countryside will echo with unwanted and upsetting reminders that birds are dying in vast numbers.

It’s opened in marked contrast to the flurry of vapid puff pieces designed to persuade the public that killing hundreds of thousands of Red Grouse is somehow ‘glorious’. Perhaps even the notoriously self-important shooting industry has finally begun to realise that killing up to 40 million reared and released birds for profit and fun doesn’t sit well with a public increasingly concerned with senseless slaughter and biodiversity loss…

Back in August we wrote a series of posts blasting grouse shooting (see for example ‘There’s nothing ‘glorious’ about killing grouse‘). Those posts used bullet points to put across as much information as possible, so we’re repeating that for pheasant shooting, which has the same problems with cruelty and wildlife crime but on a much, much larger scale.

(Unsure when the various shooting ‘seasons’ start and end? Check out ‘Cruelty Timeline‘ which is part of ‘Protectors of the Wild’)


Common Pheasant:
  • Familiar to almost everyone now (which proves what an impact shooting has on all of us, even if we don’t realise it), Common Pheasants are birds. Let’s never forget that they are made of the same bones, blood, and feathers as the birds that visit gardens, spend their lives on lakes, or migrate here for the summer from Africa.


  • However, Common Pheasants are not ‘native’ to the UK. They are originally from Asia, and in the Western Palearctic are native only in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. They have been widely introduced around the world to be shot, though, and perhaps half of all Europe’s pheasants are found in the UK.


  • Unlike Red Grouse, Common Pheasants (and Red-legged Partridges, a European species similarly released as live targets for the gun) are not ‘wild birds. They are bred here or imported as chicks from breeding centres in Europe. They are raised in pens or in sheds and released when several months old into the countryside where they are sold to shooters.


  • The number of pheasants released has seen a nine- or ten-fold increase in the last fifty years, as the industry buys up more and more land to rear birds for the gun.


  • Most birds are protected by law, but anyone can go out and kill a Common Pheasant. You don’t need practice, don’t need to buy a licence, or even have a good reason. If you have the landowner’s permission and a firearm, you can fill your boots. According to a well-known shooting magazine, for syndicate shoots, killing “100 to 150 birds a day is typical”.


  • In 2020 Defra added the Common Pheasant to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act which lists species which cause ecological, environmental or socio-economic harm. That’s because they have been recorded catching amphibians and scarce reptiles like Slow Worms, their mountains of droppings can impact plants and sensitive environments, and the birds that survive the early winter will take food needed by native seed-eating species during what is called the ‘hungry gap’ when resources are in short supply. However thanks to pro-shooting lobbying there is still very little regulation on how or where so many pheasants can be released.


  • Despite the UK suffering the ravages of Avian Flu, the shooting industry has refused to take take a precuaionary approach and rein in its releases. It has added millions of birds to the environment when common sense would have said that releasing vast numbers of potential hosts into the wild is totally inappropriate and could lead to the virus spreading amongst already declining wild bird populations.




  • So many birds are released to be shot that if every single bird in the UK in autumn (when Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge numbers are at their peak) could be weighed and added up, around HALF of the entire total (or ‘biomass’) would be made up of these two species alone!
  • The pheasant-shooting business is booming, but the pheasant-eating business is not. Concerns about the environment, wildlife crime, and ingesting lead shot has led to a glut of shot Pheasants. Despite lobbyists’ claims, almost all the money is in the business of shooting birds for fun and little of it is in the meat.




It’s not just pheasants that die

  • Once in the countryside, flocks of Common Pheasants attract native predators. The shooting industry wages a relentless war on mammals like foxes, stoats and weasels, and birds like magpies and other crows, to protect ‘their’ birds so they can be shot.



  • No one knows just how many animals the industry traps, snares, shoots, or poisons in England because they are not required to keep data. But the sole reason snares are still allowed to be used in England is because of lobbying by the shooting industry and the inaction of pro-shoot MPs (see ‘Snares and the Shooting Industry‘)


  • Many Common Pheasants die on our roads. In fact, 2017 research from Cardiff University and Exeter University found that pheasants are 13 times more likely to die on roads than other birds, and that almost 7% of all roadkill on Britain’s roads involve pheasants.


  • That roadkill is easy scavenging for foxes and crows of course – the very same wild animals that gamekeepers are employed to relentlessly target and kill by the shooting industry!




Pro-shoot lobbyists talk about ‘great days out’, about ‘tradition’, about being ‘out in the countryside’ – but the reality is that literally millions and millions of non-native birds will be killed solely to support an industry that exists to make money from them. No matter how they attempt to dress it up, this is about a small number of people having fun shooting live targets out of the air.

Our recent undercover investigation with the Hunt Investigation Team looking into the pheasant pens at Leighton Hall discovered filthy conditions and many diseased or dead birds, showing just how badly the industry sometimes treats what many shoots simply see as a disposable asset to be produced in huge numbers for the gun.

On top of that, countless numbers of native animals will die in traps and snares, tons of lead shot will be released into the environment, and many of us will suffer as well as we’re forced to listen to gunshots reminding us of the selfishness and cruelty taking place all around us.

This is an industry that simply has no place in the 21st century, no place in a country that is already so depleted of its biodiversity that 1 in 6 of all its species is at potential risk of extinction here, and no place in a world where we need above all else to accept the damage we are doing and the urgency of treating life with the respect that it deserves.