Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

Last month, the RSPB announced its new policy on gamebird shooting. In this blog, RSPB Cymru Head of Species, Julian Hughes, looks at how this will affect our work in Wales.

The most important point to make is that we consider the management associated with gamebirds no differently to what we expect of any land-management, such as farming and timber production. RSPB Cymru wants to see a Wales that is equitable, climate-safe, nature-rich and healthy. We need well-connected and ecosystems that help to address the climate and nature crises.

It’s the basis of the Five Steps to Green Recovery that we published recently. In a nutshell, gamebird shooting in Wales must achieve the sustainable management of natural resources (SMNR) that is a legal requirement of Welsh Government.

Gamebird shooting, particularly grouse-shooting in the uplands, has had an historic impact on the wildlife and management of semi-natural areas in Wales, though it influences a smaller part of Wales compared with many areas in England and Scotland. Only a handful of moorlands are now managed for grouse-shooting, including those in the Powys Moorland Partnership that are part-funded by Welsh Government.

Shooting of released, non-native gamebirds, primarily pheasants and red-legged partridges, is more widespread. It has been estimated that pheasants are released for shooting in around 4% of Welsh woodlands, and based on the last Atlas of Wintering Birds, these are most concentrated in Powys, south Denbighshire and Anglesey.

Around 57 million gamebirds are released into the UK countryside every year. Although there are no separate figures available for Wales, we estimate that around 5% of this total is released in Wales. The number of pheasants recorded by the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey has increased by 46% in Wales since 1995.

                                                                                                                                                                        

Thousands of gamebirds, like pheasants, are released in Wales every year (Ben Andrew, rspb-images.com)

The headline numbers are large - perhaps up to three million birds are released into the Welsh countryside each year. But we want to focus on the impacts on nature in Wales, much of which is already struggling as a result of decades of unsustainable land management and the climate crisis. There are gaps in knowledge that need to be filled, but this should not be used as an excuse to address some of the issues that are clear.

What changes do we want to see?

  1. An end to the use of lead ammunition, which poses a health risk to birds and people who consume game in the food chain. Alternatives are widely available, and there’s no need to be using lead. We know that this has support within the shooting community, and we believe that legislation will help to shift this transition urgently. We are calling on all political parties to commit to making Wales lead-free in their manifestos for next year’s Senedd elections.
  2. An end to the illegal killing of birds of prey. We’ll continue to work closely with Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), shooting and farming organisations, and the four Welsh police forces. The recovery of raptors, such as red kite, is a success story to celebrate, but the illegal use of poisons is not reducing. We’re grateful to Welsh Government for supporting our work to tackle the illegal killing of birds of prey this year.
  3. We’ll press for Wales to have robust legal processes, that are evidence-led and sustainable, for any authorised killing of native birds and mammals. NRW is reviewing how it permits the killing and trapping of birds. RSPB Cymru will contribute evidence and its experience to this review, including ways that the regulations can be improved further. NRW needs adequate funding to gather and analyse data on huntable species and species killed under licence, otherwise it has no way to understand the impacts on nature of its own policies.
  4. Large-scale peatland restoration in Wales is essential and urgent. Given the climate emergency, this requires an end to burning of vegetation growing on peat deeper than 30cm. The Welsh Heather and Grass Burning Code has a presumption against burning on peat deeper than 50cm, so we anticipate that this will be a relatively modest change. It’s crucial that Wales agrees, adopts and funds an ambitious peatland strategy as part of building a green recovery.
  5. Driven grouse-shooting should be regulated by a licensing system. Any changes to legislation in Scotland or England should be mirrored here to ensure that Wales is not vulnerable to exploitation of less stringent rules. A parallel example where this causes an environmental impact is the interpretation of planning rules that has permitted a massive increase in intensive poultry units in Mid Wales and the different application of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones that resulted in a shift in potato farming from Herefordshire into the Wye Valley.

Our evidence reviews highlight concerns about the impact of releasing large numbers of gamebirds into the countryside. For example, releasing gamebirds can lead to higher numbers of other animals, like foxes, which can increase the predation risk to ground-nesting birds such as curlews.

We will highlight these concerns with NRW, Welsh Government and those who manage shoots in Wales. We’ll also push for action to ensure full compliance with existing rules, such as the requirement for compulsory registration of shoots that release more than 50 gamebirds.

Black grouse is a threatened species that depend on upland moorland habitats (Andy Hay, rspb-images.com)

RSPB Cymru has worked with estates and farms with shooting interests to help threatened wildlife, like black grouse in north Wales. But we are very concerned about the impacts of unsustainable gamebird management, including on our nature reserves and protected areas close to gamebird release sites. In the weeks since the RSPB’s new policy was announced, we have received calls of support from both those who shoot and those who don’t.

We hope that shoot owners and syndicates in Wales will hear those calls and show leadership that puts Wales at the forefront of raising standards for sustainable shooting.

* Our policy has been informed by extensive reviews of the evidence, which you can read about here.

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