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New gamebird figures challenge RSPB claims

New research questions RSPB numbers by showing around 15million fewer gamebirds are released each year than claimed

New BASC research has challenged RSPB claims that the shooting industry releases 50million birds into the wild each year.

Real figure closer to 34.9million

The paper, Impacts of gamebird release, says the real figure lies closer to 34.9million birds and describes the significantly higher estimate as being “based on unreliable extrapolation”.

BASC formulated its estimate by using figures from the GB Poultry Register, feed sales, veterinary information and industry sources.

The estimates from these various sources range from 29.6milllion to 41.9million birds in total, with BASC taking the average of 34.9million. The paper estimates that around 80 per cent (27.9million) of the total are pheasants, while 20 per cent (7.5million) are partridges.

RSPB dispute BASC findings

The RSPB has disputed BASC’s findings and stands by its 50million estimate, telling Shooting Times: “GB Poultry Register figures indicate that 50,287,533 non-native gamebirds were released across Britain in 2013. This is a nine-fold increase in pheasant releases and a 200-fold increase in red-legged partridges since the 1960s.”

The BASC paper also quotes the GB Poultry Register, but gives the much lower figure of 33.2million. It believes this discrepancy is due to the RSPB misinterpreting the data.

Richard Ali, chief executive of BASC, responded: “The RSPB is quite right in that the GB Poultry Register for 1 January 2013 does state the figure of 50,287,533 gamebirds. However, this number does not reflect the number of gamebirds as of 1 January 2013, nor does it reflect the number of gamebirds released by shoots in either 2012 or 2013.  The Poultry Register is designed to assist the Government in identifying premises in case of disease outbreaks. It therefore includes significant occurrences of double counting. It is a major overestimate of actual gamebird numbers.

BASC defence

“Our estimate of 34.9million gamebirds uses the best available data from the Government, the gamebird feed industry and shooting providers, and is therefore robust.”

The issue of multiple counting in the Poultry Register was discussed in the House of Commons in 2006. The environment minister at the time, Ben Bradshaw, told Parliament: “A form of double-counting has occurred where the same birds have been registered by the gamefarm at rearing, and by the shoot following purchase. This has produced an overestimate in total bird numbers.”

Andrew Gilruth of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) welcomed the paper, but said the number of birds released is less important than where: “BASC must be congratulated on sharing their assessment that the UK releases 2.5 gamebirds per hectare of countryside. The GWCT is interested in the impacts releasing has on our countryside and this is why we have conducted most of the conservation research in this area.

“From a conservation perspective the ratio between local gamebird stocking density and release pen area is more important than the number released, and this guidance has been enshrined within The Code of Good Shooting Practice.”


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