Game over for UK filming season as bird flu and Brexit take their toll | Rural Affairs
Bird flu has managed to make the shooter what animal rights activists have been trying to achieve for decades – with a little help from Brexit.
Dozens of pheasant and partridge shoots have been canceled ahead of the hunting season after an unprecedented outbreak of bird flu in France left gamekeepers in the UK with few birds to breed.
At least 93 game wardens have been made redundant so far this year and some shoots are at risk of going bankrupt, according to Dominic Boulton, former chairman of the Game Farmers’ Association and now its political adviser.
“These are 93 families who, overall, will have had housing that accompanies their work and a vehicle,” he said. “So they could well be faced with the loss of everything. There will be a significant number of shoots that will not take place this year.
About 70% of partridge shoots and almost a third of planned pheasant shoots could be canceled this year, according to estimates from Guns On Pegs, a shooting agency.
This means a huge reduction in the 57 million red partridges and pheasants reared and released each year in the UK. The grouse shoot, which announces the start of the hunting season on August 12 with the “Glorious Twelfth”, will not be affected because the grouse are not raised and released.
Groups such as Wild Justice have campaigned for a reduction in releases, saying only 30% of birds are shot and recovered, meaning survivors indirectly affect protected wildlife. The RSPB says birds of prey are killed illegally to protect game birds. He also opposes the use of toxic lead ammunition, which the government is considering banning.
The dramatic reduction in game birds this year will also affect drummers, catering businesses and restaurants, Boulton said, adding that 75% of rural land is managed for shooting of some type, including game, and that the industry is worth around £2.4 billion.
The first signs of disruption appeared at the end of February with the discovery of the first case of bird flu in the Loire Valley. “About half the birds we raise in this country come from an egg laid in France,” said Boulton, estimating that around 90% of partridges and 40% of pheasants come from producers, with “virtually all” in the Loire Valley.
Once bird flu is detected on a farm, the birds are slaughtered and 30 days later the breeder can start marketing birds domestically – which for French farmers means within the EU. But international exports must wait 90 days, under World Organization for Animal Health guidelines passed into UK and EU law.
The National Game Wardens Organization (NGO) has campaigned for the government to create special licenses allowing imports before the 90 days are up. After weeks of negotiations, ministers reached an agreement with the EU for a “tailor-made arrangement”, but not with France.
“Even if we were still in the EU and applied the 30-day rule, we would still have had problems,” said Boulton, adding that French authorities had created false hopes among shooters that imports could resume in time. . “If you want to start filming on October 1 [when the pheasant season begins]your birds must be eight weeks old by the end of June to be released into the wild.
The last outbreak in France was detected on May 17 and 16 million farmed birds, including poultry, were culled. As of June 22, there had been 1,464 cases of bird flu, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
French farmers were devastated. Otto Tepasse based his central London restaurant, Otto’s, on traditional French cuisine. Le Canard à la Presse is his signature dish, made with Challans ducks from the Maison Burgaud farm in the Loire.
“I haven’t served any ducks from the start,” he said. “This farm has been in operation since the 1930s and it is the main farm for three Michelin star restaurants. Now everything has been wiped out.
The farm was only given the green light in mid-July, he said, but they are now trying to find new stock. The guests will have to wait until the end of September to be able to eat their duck in a hurry again.
Bird flu was reported in 35 European countries in 2022, and the UK has seen the number of cases nearly quintuple to 122 so far this year.
Eggs from free-range hens were unavailable for five weeks because outbreaks meant UK chickens had to be kept indoors, and last month Defra set up a research consortium led by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) to study how to prevent the spread of the virus.
Outbreaks killed thousands of seabirds in the Farne Islands near Northumberland earlier this month, and thousands more gannets, gulls and puffins across Scotland, prompting a ban on visiting 23 islands Scottish.
The virus spreads from wild to captive birds, possibly through feces and direct contact. One theory for how the virus circulates is that birds that migrate to the Arctic during the summer then pass it on to each other. The birds also mix in Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan on the migration routes.
The NGO said it was too early to say how the filming season would be affected, but its chairman, David Pooler, was happy with how the government had acted. “We were assured that the government was trying to put measures in place that would prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.”
A Defra spokesman said the department had tried to balance the egg trade with the country’s “high biosecurity standards after this year’s bird flu outbreak.” Unfortunately, due to a series of external factors, it was not possible to put measures in place in time for this year’s filming season. We are aware that this will have an impact and we are exploring how we can alleviate these pressures in the future.