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Wild Justice launches fresh attack on shoots

The campaign group has written to Defra to argue against the process of ‘catching up’ gamebirds amid the UK outbreak of avian influenza, reports Matt Cross

Pheasant cock in frozen meadow in winter.

A Defra risk assessment found that gamebirds pose a low risk of spreading bird flu

Wild Justice, the anti-shooting campaign group led by Chris Packham, has used the avian influenza outbreak to launch yet another attack on shooting.

The decision by Defra to allow the release of gamebirds to continue this summer without restrictions was based on a risk assessment that gamebirds posed a low threat of spreading bird flu. However, it was widely criticised by both Wild Justice and the RSPB.

The target of the group’s latest attack is the process of ‘catching up’, whereby gamebirds are caught after the end of the shooting season to provide breeding stock. In a letter from solicitors Leigh Day to Defra, the group said it was writing to “raise concerns regarding the catching-up of pheasants and red-legged partridges released from captivity for the purpose of shooting in circumstances where there is an ongoing avian influenza crisis in the UK”.

After several pages of legal argument, the campaign group’s solicitors arrived at the point and asked “whether the secretary of state proposes to prohibit catching-up in this open season”.

Meanwhile, a second year of disruption to gamebird supply is looking increasingly likely as bird flu continues to rampage through a key part of France. Vendée in the Pays de la Loire is a major centre of gamebird production both for the French and international markets. Last year it was severely affected by bird flu at a critical point in the production cycle, causing huge disruption to gamebird supply.

Worryingly, this year Vendée is already heavily affected with a rapidly escalating case count, and the area now has nearly a third of all the cases recorded in France. Two neighbouring departments have another third of the cases split between them, meaning that more than half of all bird flu cases in France are in key gamebird production areas.

In the UK, the current outbreak is continuing. At the time of going to press, cases in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were showing signs of slowing. However, new cases were continuing to emerge in England, particularly in East Anglia but also in other areas, with a number of new confirmed cases reported in Hampshire.