Releasing captive bred pheasants should be abandonment.

No legitimate reason to abandon millions of hapless birds each year.

On Good Friday 2019, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) allegedly raided a large pheasant and partridge hatchery in Mildenhall, Suffolk and released 9,000 pheasants into the countryside as part of their “dismantle the shooting industry farm by farm, shoot by shoot”. Later thousands were “illegally” released from hatcheries in Cornwall and Wiltshire.

Whether this was of any benefit to the pheasants is a mute point, but every autumn we continue to allow millions of the creatures to be released to be killed by humans, road traffic, starvation and predators alike. To anyone with little knowledge of the pheasant and partridge shooting industry, which is worth £2 billion in revenue to the UK, the number ALF set free might seem colossal, but in reality they only represented 0.028% of the total 30-35,000,000 estimated released each year.

Despite all the arguments, there is no legitimate reason to abandon millions of these innocent birds and leave them to their fate, as it does nothing to preserve the wild pheasant population in the UK or conserve habitat or the countryside as it is purely done for revenue and sport.

I use the word “abandon” advisedly as the terminology everyone prefers to use is “release” as though we are referring to a Born Free scenario of releasing wild animals back into their natural habitat. If it was any other captive bred or companion animal the action would be classified as illegal abandonment.

Unfortunately, these hapless birds have little wild heritage and half of the 30 million pheasants and 6 million partridges are imported into the UK as day old chicks according to the British Association of Shooting & Conservation (BASC), then reared intensively in hatcheries and then put outside in pens to ‘acclimatise’ to the wild.

50% of pheasants die before anyone gets a chance to shoot them.

In reality young captive reared pheasants are completely naïve with no experience of the wild or parental influence to guide them away from danger or instil natural instincts, making them extremely vulnerable to predators particularly foxes.  They have a reduced survival rate and limited breeding success even if they are lucky to survive into their second year. At one point a few years back ‘hunters’ were complaining that the birds were becoming too docile and tame and the industry had to use new pheasant strains with more wild characteristics.

According to the industries’ own research the survival rate of pheasants is appalling with:

  • 36% of them being eaten by predators (23% before anyone has a chance to shoot them);
  • 7% killed in road accidents and from disease;
  • and 3.5% dying while being raised

which equates to 50% mortality before hunting begins. 37.5% are then shot during the four-month season (7% of these not on the shooting estates), making a grand total of a staggering 84% mortality. The few that survive all the carnage are mostly wiped out within a year.  Research has indicated that their release each year has no effect on increasing the wild population and is purely for commercial reasons.

Pheasant in countryside

With all the knowledge and research indicating that reared birds have a reduced survival rate, high mortality, limited breeding success and an inability to fend for themselves adequately in the wild, it could be argued that their release qualifies as illegal abandonment and causing unnecessary suffering, particularly in the context that it is not necessary to release them in the first place, but everyone seems to distance themselves from this point.

Taking a purely cynical standpoint, if this kind of hunting is to continue why not just cut out most of the pre-shoot mortality, road deaths and suffering and just place the birds in large aviaries where the marksmen can kill them at leisure like a kind of turkey shoot, but can you imagine the outcry then. Looked at in purely realistic terms this would lessen the deaths and fewer birds would suffer, but of course it would be no “fun”, not “sporting” and might make people realise what a horrendous sport this really is.

Living in Harmony with Wildlife – Algarve Storks

The Portuguese Revere their Storks

We can learn a lot about living in harmony with wildlife from the residents of the Algarve in Portugal. They seem to absolutely revere the Stork and it is both a wonderful spectacle and a pleasure to see how the Portuguese seem to embrace the thousands of storks arriving from their migration. Each year they take up residence in their personal nests just like the hordes of human tourists. They make their huge nests in the villages, towns and cities wherever they please and return each year to the same one. They are oblivious to the noise of traffic and human activity and the residents reciprocate by appearing unmindful of them.

Algarve Storks

They are totally protected in Portugal and it is illegal to kill them, disturb them or destroy their nests, and as they always return to the same nest each year they have a right of tenure for as long as they wish so this is why you will see many abandoned brick chimneys, pylons, tree trunks and buildings with nests perched on top.

They are not fussed about residing in the centre of towns and will choose mobile masts, church clocktowers, apartment blocks, residential houses and factories to set up home. From their vantage points they will peer down at you while tourists peer up at them and take photographs and locals just pass on by as they are part of daily life there.

Storks have no vocal chords and are therefore mute, but you will not have difficulty in locating them as instead of uttering bird song they produce a sound like someone tapping hollow pieces of wood together by throwing their heads back and clicking their huge beaks.

Algarve Storks

What a pleasure though to see animals being treated with so much respect in this way, a far cry from the UK where any animal or bird, protected or not, is killed legally under licence in the name of progress.

Although Portugal is a relatively safe haven for them, and they are supposedly protected worldwide, hundreds if not thousands never make it back each year because they are flagrantly shot and killed in countries like Malta and the Lebanon as they migrate across the Sahara through the near east to southern Europe. They do not fly over the Mediterranean sea because there are no suitable air currents so they divert and funnel into flocks of thousands over countries to the east and Gibraltar in the west. They were once shot purely for subsistence food, but now it is a highly organised and  popular sport and causes the demise of so many of these beautiful and endearing birds.

The Algarve town of Silves is a kind of spa hill resort for them and storks almost outnumber the human residents. On a recent visit I could not help myself from stopping at almost every street corner to stare up and watch them. Even sitting at a pavement café we had a pair clacking away above us. If you ever decide to visit the Algarve in the spring and summer it is worth taking some time out from the sun and sea and spend a little time in the company of the Storks. You do not even have to forgo the Sangria  as there is probably a bar nearby with a nest above it where you can reflect on what these birds have gone through to reach safety.

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