Defra doesn’t know what it’s doing (not news) on catching up and bird flu

Defra really doesn’t like to rock the boat by reforming anything to do with recreational shooting in England. We suspect that this is because the boat was built, paid for and is populated by the supporters of the shooting industry who are mates with the current incumbents at Defra.

Examples include general licences (where change has been forced by legal action by Wild Justice), burning regulations (where change was forced by The Committee on Climate Change and almost every environmental NGO in the country), gamebird releases (where change was forced by legal action by Wild Justice) and lead ammunition where a consultation is happening which is largely driven by quicker changes in legislation in the EU which will affect the possibility of UK sales of game meat.

Often Defra does not act, when it does , it acts poorly (burning on peatlands is a good example), the changes are not policed (previous changes in ammunition regulations for shooting) and it always takes far too long to get things done.

A good example of these things – nothing done and decided very slowly – occurred this summer in a pathetic response to bird flu where from late spring onwards it was obvious that the situation with bird flu had changed and that, unusually for summer, there was a lot of it about. Under these circumstances it would be sensible to assess the risk attached to releasing millions of captive gamebirds into the countryside. This is not said with hindsight, many were saying this at the time, with the RSPB being particularly outspoken as we recall.

The Defra response was to do nothing for ages and then start a risk assessment very late and complete it so late that all releases had already occurred – and then only publish the risk assessment months later (last week). Our summary of the risk assessment is ‘for a whole bunch of reasons, it would be daft to release gamebirds into the countryside this summer’ but, of course, because this is Defra, this was pretending that you might close the stable (or release pen) door long after any horses (Pheasants or Red-legged Partridges) had bolted (see here).

Well that’s water under the bridge, or millions of birds into the bird flu reservoir population, but Defra now has another decision to make. Guess what? Defra is dragging its heels again and looks as though it won’t make it in time to have any impact on anything.

The decision is on catching up. Catching up refers to (have you guessed?) catching up female Pheasants – bringing them back into captivity before the end of the shooting season (end of January) to form a new breeding stock (although many birds are also imported later in the season). Our question to Defra was, having failed to stop all these birds being released, what is your position on catching up? We can see this is a difficult decision, but that’s what government exists to do. Defra appears incapable of putting its mind to anything to do with shooting until its too late to make a difference.

You can see there response to our information request – it’s as though they don’t have an answer and certainly don’t want to give one.