October 1 marked the beginning of the four-month pheasant shooting season. Around 40 million of these birds are intensively reared every year, using industrial hatcheries, cages, sheds and, finally, release pens, to provide feathered targets for ‘guns’ who commonly pay £1,000 a day. Because of the enfeeblement that results from being reared in captivity, it is estimated that around half of the birds die before they can be gunned down. They perish from exposure, starvation, disease and predation or under the wheels of motor vehicles.
These factors make pheasant rearing the very opposite of efficient food production. In fact, figures from the shooting industry itself show that it costs more than 13 times as much to rear pheasants and get them airborne than the shot birds will fetch retail.
Large numbers of farmed pheasants inevitably attract - and probably boost the populations of - predator species such as stoats, weasels, foxes and members of the crow family. Gamekeepers label them as ‘vermin’ and kill them with guns, traps and snares. Species ranging from badgers to cats and dogs - and even protected birds of prey - are also caught and killed. Shooters, additionally, blight the landscape by discharging thousands of tons of toxic lead shot every year. The production of birds for ‘sport shooting’ has been banned in Holland. For powerful animal welfare and environmental reasons, we should follow its lead.