Britain's “senseless and disgusting” game bird shooting industry kills 100,000 animals every day, an anti-hunting charity has said as it calls for an inquiry into the practice.
It is estimated that about 15.4 million pheasants and partridges are killed during shooting season, which typically runs from September to January each year.
The report by the League Against Cruel Sports also stated that hundreds of wild and domestic animals are trapped in snares each day in order to ‘protect’ game birds - a claim that the Countryside Alliance firmly denies.
The Countryside Alliance makes no apologies for the number of animals shot and killed, saying it is “nothing to be ashamed of”.
The League said that many of the animals that are killed are not eaten, but thrown away.
Game bird suffering, wildlife deaths and environmental impact are among the main concerns raised in the League's report.
Eduardo Gonçalves, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said that people have been sold a false image of the shooting game bird industry.
He said that the animals who are eventually used as “target practice” are farmed in conditions “worse than those for farmed chickens”.
Gonçalves said that millions are shipped to the UK from Europe in “inhumane conditions”, with 35 million pheasants and partridges – birds not native to the UK – being released into the countryside every year.
Tory MP Roger Gale echoed the League's concerns regarding the way birds are raised.
He told The Huffington Post UK: “The condition under which the chicks are bred are such that it would not be acceptable if they were poultry.
“Under farming regulations it would not be permitted, but because they are ‘wild birds’ – even though they are bred in captivity – they are allowed to be crammed into squalid conditions for much of their lives before they are released.”
Gonçalves drew a parallel between "canned hunting" in Africa - where lions are raised in order to eventually be released into a confined area and then shot - and game bird shooting.
He said: “The same thing is happening in the UK – game bird shooting is our own canned hunting, and it’s just as senseless, and just as disgusting.”
But the Countryside Alliance challenges the allegation that birds are factory farmed, maintaining that “game meat is the most ethical and free-range meat anyone can eat and 97% of all that is shot goes into the food chain”.
Liam Stokes, head of shooting campaigns for the Countryside Alliance, said: “Game birds are reared in pens with room to run around outdoors as soon as they have feathered up, in conditions meeting the highest welfare standards as laid out in a Defra code of practice.”
Stokes admitted that some chicks at only one day old are imported from Europe but insists that their transportation complies with EU animal transport laws.
Footage released by the League (see above) show birds being shot out of the sky, flailing on the floor and sometimes being collected by dogs.
Gonçalves said: “Almost half of birds shot are wounded and suffer rather than being killed outright, many others are left to rot in death pits, meanwhile literally millions of wild and domestic animals like hares, hen harriers, cats and dogs are slaughtered to ensure the ‘game’ birds make it into the air.
“That’s the reality, it’s appalling, and it needs to stop.”
Gale said: “They are just put there to be blasted out of the sky by idiots that have got nothing better to do than use them as target practice.”
He said there was no excuse for the “revolting” activity when there are alternatives, such as clay pigeon shooting.
The League's report also raised the issue of the use of snares, which the animal welfare organisation says kills 200 animals a day. The Countryside Alliance called this claim “rubbish”.
Gale said: “A snare doesn’t discriminate. So, yes, a snare might catch a fox but it might just as easily catch deer, a cat, a dog. Anything that is on four legs and in the wrong place.
“And again, it’s a revolting way of controlling anything.
“It’s cruel, slow, painful, and quite unacceptable. I don’t know why the hell it is still allowed in this country, I don’t know.”
The Countryside Alliance said that snares can be a “vital, selective and humane tool for the protection not only of game but of livestock and vulnerable and rare ground nesting birds”.
Gale, a fierce opponent to fox hunting, said that he hopes the League's latest report will spark as much debate around that 'bloodsport' as this one.
The North Thanet MP said that shooting still continues “because there’s money in it”, adding: “There is a breed of person that likes killing wild things. Well, they’re not even wild, they are tame. That’s the other half of it.”
The Countryside Alliance said that shooting in rural communities is a good way of making friends and criticised the League for “attempting to curtail the rights of shooters across the UK”.
Stokes said: “An attack on shooting is an attack on rural communities, in which many people of all incomes and backgrounds rely on shooting for their social lives and often for their livelihoods.
“Social isolation can be a real issue in some of Britain’s more remote communities, but people who get involved in shooting make an average of 20 new friends.”
The League also questioned the economic benefits that the shooting industry claims the "sport" provides.
The Countryside Alliance says that shoot providers invest £250 million and 3.9 million work days into conservation annually.
But the League said that, factoring in the public subsidies the industry enjoys, as well as gun licences and processing costs, the cost to the taxpayer of supporting this industry comes to £19 million a year.
The League is calling on MPs to look at the industry "as a matter of urgency".
In addition to calling for an independent review into the commercial shooting industry, the League Against Cruel Sports is also calling for a ban on breeding cages for game birds, a ban on the live transport of game birds and a ban on the manufacture, sale and use of snares.
The main concerns raised in the League's report are:
Game Bird Suffering
- On average, over 100,000 birds shot and killed every day during the shooting season
- Many are dumped when killed – it’s one for the pit, not one for the pot
- 40% of birds shot are wounded, not killed outright
- 200 wild and domestic animals snared every hour to ‘protect’ game birds
- Mountain hares and hen harriers targetted by game keepers: both now threatened with extinction
- Total weight of birds released to be shot each year is greater than weight of all native birds combined
- Burning grouse moors pollutes rivers, contributes to climate change and can lead to urban flooding
- Game estates receive government subsidies under agri-environment schemes
- Shotgun licence costs £50 – but costs £200 to process, leading to £19m annual cost to taxpayer