Game welfare code may shoot itself in the foot.
AWELFARE code of practice covering the breeding of gamebirds for shooting has received a mixed reaction from the industry. The recommendations, approved by ministers, cover the minimum amount of space for birds bred in cages, breeding practices, feeding and watering and what type of equipment can be used to produce the birds.
Concerns the Government's regulations could mean the end of game shooting proved unfounded but some groups criticised last-minute changes to the code, which they said were unworkable.
Defra said those that failed to follow the recommendations could be prosecuted on welfare grounds. Nationally, there are 7,500 registered farms and shoots raising more than 50 game birds annually and Defra called on people only to shoot with those which kept to the code.
Animal health and welfare minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: "The Government promised to address concerns about the welfare of gamebirds, and I believe that the new code strikes the right balance between welfare needs and protecting businesses."
Under the recommendations, pheasants should be allowed one square metre per bird in their cages, while grey partridges should be allowed 0.5 square metres and red leg partridges 0.29 square metres.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) said most farms and shoots already complied with those size recommendations.
Spokesman Christopher Graffius said: "The Government and particularly Defra ministers are to be congratulated on reaching a decision which ensures the future of game shooting and high standards of animal welfare."
But there were concerns about some measures such as keeping wild males that survived the shooting season separate from existing stock for a year.
National Gamekeepers Organisation chairman Lindsay Waddell said: "The code says we cannot mix incoming birds with others we already hold 'for the entire breeding season'. Well just how are the birds supposed to mate?" And Countryside Alliance spokesman Tim Bonner said: "The Government's track record on rural issues isn't great but it is a bit much banning pheasants from having sex."
Mr Bonner said the code was unworkable in a number of areas and it was "a pity that Defra couldn't just listen to the people who know about game farming".
Country Land and Business Association's North East director, Angus Collingwood-Cameron, said: "Game shooting is an important component of the rural economy of the North East. Like most sectors, it is attempting to struggle through the recession. The last thing it needs is an increase in costs due to increased regulation which is not based on welfare considerations."
BREEDING CODE Critics say many of the changes to the welfare code for birds for shooting are unworkable