I have been watching the progress of the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes with interest. The issue first came to my attention when I was on the BASC Council in 2004. We were shown a video, made by an anti, of an unattractive cage laying system and invited to vote on a policy of opposing such cages. I abstained but everyone else voted in favour. What nobody knew, because there was no relevant expertise on Council or among the staff, was that we had inadvertently also voted to ban traditional partridge boxes.

The Game Shooting Advisory Committee, of which I was chairman, was not asked to give advice prior to taking the decision despite having expertise. The committee’s concern that the matter had been badly handled and that any policy based on minimum areas per bird would need scientific backing was also ignored.

The issue was revisited and a couple of gamefarmers invited to put their view — nobody had thought to invite them earlier. Nor was any attempt made for Council members to visit a British gamefarm using the cage system. The gamefarmers were listened to, then ignored though there were more abstentions and votes against. When you’ve nailed your colours to the mast its difficult to backtrack, especially if it means admitting you didn’t have all the facts at your disposal in the first place. It seemed to me that banning cages could have unforeseen consequences. I asked for an assessment of the effects of a ban on the future of British driven gameshooting. None was forthcoming during my time on Council let alone in time to influence the early decisions.

Wind on a few years and we find BASC in league with LACS, Animal Aid and the RSPCA against the rest of the shooting community and FAWC in opposing most forms of cage. BASC lobbied hard and, by and large, got its way. Cages as such have not been banned but most of those in use will not meet the new space requirements. Either costs will rise or eggs and birds will be imported from the Continent where no such standards apply. The Game Farmers’ Association’s early assessments suggest this is so.

Dissent within the shooting community weakens us all. DEFRA has inserted new clauses not discussed before. Instead of quarantining new birds for 30 days they will now have to be quarantined for a season. Flock inspections must be made twice daily — not much problem for a big operation but difficult for the part-timer. BASC has had little option but to welcome these proposals, though they are not justified by published evidence.

Shooting does not come well out of this. If BASC’s arguments were so good they should have been able to sway the other organisations and FAWC. It is, unfortunately, not the first time BASC has created a schism in the shooting community. We look to it for leadership, not competition. BASC’s recent campaign to encourage buying British birds is seen by many as a pathetic effort to regain lost ground.

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