Raising Pheasants to Shoot: A good use of resources?

A farmer on a sporting estate near the Cairngorms told me recently about the role of pheasant shooting on the estate where he works. The foreign owner bought the estate with the aim of inviting his friends, and various young female ‘relatives’, over for shooting holidays. The problem is that the estate he bought has no deer and no grouse. So the only alternative is pheasants- easy to introduce and even easier to shoot. Several keepers are employed to raise the pheasants and train them to come and be fed when called. The guests will not be shooting wild pheasants but ones that have been especially raised and fed on grain. The guests then arrive and find that they can bag loads of pheasants, happily experiencing life on a ‘traditional’ sporting estate. Is this a good use of estate workers’ time? Is it a good use of land? My friend certainly doesn’t think so. He works hard to raise cattle that will end up as meat on someone’s table. The purpose of a shoot is not to provide food for anyone but in this case sport for the wealthy friends of the owner. And in any case, it has become increasingly difficult to actually sell the meat. Game dealers only take 48% on average of shot game and prices have fallen by 50-60% over the past 6 years (1).

Shooting of pheasants and partridges has been on the increase, especially in the lowlands of England. It is often done on large estates but also provides an income for farmers.

According to a DEFRA report (2): “It is currently estimated that between 39 and 57 million pheasants and 8.1 and 13 million partridges are released in the UK, with 85% of these in England”.

There are many arguments for and against such a practice. Though those land managers involved in the rearing of pheasants and partridges may very well be exemplary land managers, the releasing of such an enormous number of non-native species must have some effect on the native flora and fauna and this was confirmed by the DEFRA report.

The conflict over pheasants is being played out between the usual opponents. The RSPB is calling for a reduction in the amount of released birds, claiming it is a question of protecting nature and not about being anti-shooting (3). In addition, there are serious concerns raised about the lead used in the guns, something which is still common in Britain but which has been banned in many European countries. One the other side is the hunting and shooting interests who resent any attempt to control their sport which they see as an integral part of rural life and an important source of income (4).

There are a number of issues that need addressing in order to make a decision about what to do.

  1. Do pheasants enhance the ecology of the land?
  2. How many game birds could be released without damaging the environment?
  3. What is the social worth of the activity? Is the fact that it is primarily an activity of the well-off matter? How many jobs does it provide? Are these jobs well-paid?  Does it provide a useful product?
  4. How much land is devoted to the rearing of pheasants, including the growing of food that is fed to the pheasants? Could this land be better used?


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