To be or not to be, are pheasants livestock or wild birds, that is the question?

Its a fact shooting estates, for their sporting advantage, want their pheasant to be both! Classified as livestock when being reared in an enclosed pen, but then reclassified as ‘wild birds’ when they are released into the wild to be shot; a trick houdini would have been proud. But what does this mean? When pheasants are penned shooting estates have the right to kill specific non protected wildlife to protect their livestock, but when pheasants are released into the wild to be hunted for sport they miraculously become wild birds; how can a bird propagated and kept in captivity be classified as livestock but when released be reclassified as wild? Is this something the estates have agreed between themselves, or is this dual classification enshrined in law ? For example ‘free range’ hens, are they livestock or wild? Would it be legal for beaters to flush hens into the air to be shot for sport then sold from supermarket shelves as a wild bird?

pheasantb-pen-web

A bird of prey secure pheasant pen, capped on top by netting to prevent access from the sky.

If livestock wander onto the road and cause an accident then farmers are fined and instructed to pay costs for any damage caused. With over 3 million pheasants killed each year on the road by vehicles so far no one has batted an eye. Oh its natural, these are wild birds or are they?

Then there is the classic case of the Goshawk which takes pheasants ‘in the wild’, and on occasion if they are not trapped or shot first, the Goshawk will kill pheasants just outside the release pen. Is the Goshawk killing a ‘wild bird’ or livestock when this predation takes place? If they are predating wild prey, including pheasants, the shooting estate has no right in law to kill them, or apply for a licence to do so..

This begs a question – via a Freedom of Information request – Was the keeper who applied to Natural England for  a licence to kill 10 Buzzards and 6 Sparrowhawks making an application for a license regardless of the recent Judicial Review’s conclusions, because the pheasants outside the pens would be wild birds and not livestock.

Can the public see the photographs of the pens where the events were supposed to have taking place, in Northumberland we are informed? Were the pens covered with netting, not just around the sides but on top of each pen? If the pheasants inside each pens were not properly protected from avian predators, then no one can blame birds of prey for coming into the pens taking these unprotected pheasants. Many would argue not protecting pheasants inside the holding pens was both irresponsible and negligent.

Has a court of law ever asked the question or formed a legal conclusion, ‘is the pheasant a wild bird or livestock?’ If not, why is there this question of doubt about what after all are an introduced species? The debate will continue until someone answers the question in court with all the information needed to make the right decision. Then, at last, we may begin to see a brighter future for all our birds of prey because surely Britain will not be the only country in the world killing these magnificent birds!

Footnote.

Thanks to an Eagled Eyed follower the following paragraphs taken from Defra’s own guidelines included within The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 (1968 Ch 34) has concluded pheasants are NOT livestock, see below:-

The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 (1968 Ch 34)


  1. General The main purpose of Part 1 of this Act is to give effect to the Government’s decisions on the report of the Brambell Committee in 1965 on animal welfare. It is an offence to cause or allow livestock on agricultural land to suffer unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress. Ministers are empowered, subject to Parliamentary approval, to make mandatory regulations on welfare matters and to issue codes of recommendations for the welfare of livestock. They are also empowered to prohibit certain operations on animals with or without the use of anaesthetics.
  2. Section 1 makes it an offence to cause, or knowingly to allow, livestock to suffer unnecessary pain or unneccessary distress whilst they are on agricultural land. It would be for the courts to determine in each proceeding for an alleged offence under Section 1(1) whether in fact unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress was caused.
  3. The definition of livestock given in Section 8(1) of the Act applies to animals being kept for the production of food, wool, skin or fur on agricultural land. Ministers may, by order, extend this definition and this has been done in the Welfare of Livestock (Deer) Order 1980 (see section 2(b) of this summary). The definition includes cattles, horses kept for meat, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and other species, such as rabbits, mink, fox and deer. It also applies to a horse or a dog when used in the farming of land. As a guide to the application of this definition, rabbits kept for commercial production of food or fur are livestock, but pet rabbits are not, even when kept on a farm and neither are ornamental duck, nor pheasants reared for sport.

 

10 comments to To be or not to be, are pheasants livestock or wild birds, that is the question?

  • Albert Ross

    Interesting points but many are simply answered.
    “Waitburys wild caught Chicken” is not coming any time soon. Domestic Fowl can never be ‘wild’. No such species exists in the wild. We have a breed of three-legged chickens here. No idea what they taste like as they run so darned fast that no one has ever caught one.
    Driven Leghorns is not likely to feature on many shoots and would probably be deemed cruel if it did. Now that DOES raise an interesting point. Why is it deemed cruel to shoot one species of bird and not another?
    Livestock can be released and considered “wild” or “feral” so not much hope there. Look at all the Canada Geese around in England now. They did not get here by their own wings.
    As to liability for damage from livestock, it would be interesting to test this in court for a broken windscreen. Its hard enough with cattle. You need to prove negligence.
    And shooting a Raptor is illegal whether it is taking Pheasants or Blue Tits off the bird table. It’s catching the ba$tard doing the shooting that is the hard part.
    As to pens. A farmer will tell you that the law places a responsibility on him to ‘fence against his own stock’ not his neighbours. So if Pheasants escape it is his problem. If it progresses to a neighbour’s land it belongs to the neighbour (unless a licensed animal where ownership can be proved.)

    I hope the forgoing casts some light on the problem. Good luck with your quest.

  • Robin Waterman

    A bit of a non story this? Section 27 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 gives the relevant definitions and Section 16 sets out the Licensing purposes. Been with us since 1981 when the Act came into Force.

    Editor’s Comment. The definition may be within the law, this doesn’t mean the law is correct.

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    Pheasants are a non native species to Britain, possibly introduced by the Romans. However the pheasant appears to have been granted special dispensation by government, treated differently than other alien species because of their benefit for shooting. As the law stands in Britain, it is illegal to intentionally release any non native species into the wild, for example eagle owl. The penalty for doing so is a £5000 fine, but the pheasant and red legged partridge are exempt from these legal restrictions.

  • Circus maxima

    I am not sure why the release is exempt from the EIA directive or the Water Framework Directive. A large release has a huge environmental impact and near water, the volumes of nitrogen etc could impact on the water environment.

    Editor’s Comment. The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 (1968 Ch 34)

    General The main purpose of Part 1 of this Act is to give effect to the Government’s decisions on the report of the Brambell Committee in 1965 on animal welfare. It is an offence to cause or allow livestock on agricultural land to suffer unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress. Ministers are empowered, subject to Parliamentary approval, to make mandatory regulations on welfare matters and to issue codes of recommendations for the welfare of livestock. They are also empowered to prohibit certain operations on animals with or without the use of anaesthetics.

    Section 1 makes it an offence to cause, or knowingly to allow, livestock to suffer unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress whilst they are on agricultural land. It would be for the courts to determine in each proceeding for an alleged offence under Section 1(1) whether in fact unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress was caused. The definition of livestock given in Section 8(1) of the Act applies to animals being kept for the production of food, wool, skin or fur on agricultural land. Ministers may, by order, extend this definition and this has been done in the Welfare of Livestock (Deer) Order 1980 (see section 2(b) of this summary). The definition includes cattles, horses kept for meat, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and other species, such as rabbits, mink, fox and deer. It also applies to a horse or a dog when used in the farming of land. As a guide to the application of this definition, rabbits kept for commercial production of food or fur are livestock, but pet rabbits are not, even when kept on a farm and neither are ornamental duck, nor pheasants reared for sport.

  • Which means Natural England or SNH can not issue a license to kill birds of prey which are taking wild prey.

  • Alastair Henderson

    There are problems associated with relying upon certain definitions as contained in law particularly when the law / definition has been superseded. The law relied upon here is from 1968 as amended in 1980 – since that date we have seen the WLCA introduced in 1981 which defines livestock to include game birds reared for shooting [while they are confined in release pens]. Recently the Law Commission has published their top to toe review of all wildlife and game law [which subject to amendment is intended to be enacted] – game birds reared for shooting continue to be defined as livestock [while they are confined in release pens.
    It would be interesting to know when and why the legal definition of livestock changed to include game birds reared for shooting – it hardly seems likely that there has been an irregularity?

  • Which means Natural England or SNH can not issue a license to kill birds of prey which are taking wild prey. Look at this picture on this article. No birds of prey can get in that pen so no need for a license. So if an estate want to gain a license it is impossible in the law.

  • Julie Wright

    Well as a concerned public can’t we appeal against the judges decision? If they are classed as livestock and they damage your car, all you have to do is Google where you are and it should become apparent that the birds came from that particular estate and put a claim in. They cant have it both ways, they are either livestock or wild birds. Would be good if someone could challenge the decision, we can’t have licences issued to kill BOP’s otherwise we are heading yet again a near extinction in all species of BOP’s. They don’t understand each species of bird otherwise they wouldn’t have shot a Red Footed Falcon they just see them all as vermin. I would gladly pay to go onto someone’s land set up a hide to photograph birds of prey, especially as we don’t have many in my neck of the woods. These people are missing a trick wanting to kill everything they could make bundles.

    Editor’s Comment. It appears that in law the pheasant is only classed as livestock whilst in the rearing pens, once released outside of the pen they are wild birds and can be shot as we know. This metamorphic change (livestock to wild) is only applicable to certain game birds, including pheasants.

    John Miles made a couple of very good points. If licenses issued by Natural England allowing buzzards to be killed to protect livestock i.e., pheasants in a pens, this kind of predation could be eradicated by placing suitable netting over the top of the pen preventing access into the pen by avian raptors, including buzzards. If on the other hand licenses are being issued authorising the killing of buzzards that predate pheasants outside the rearing pens, then obviously the said license is not being granted to protect livestock for the reason stated above and could be illegal.

    • Julie Wright

      There must be a lawyer that can clarify this or NE themselves, if the buzzards are taking the pheasants in the pen then how are they getting in, if he has wire or netting over the pen? If they are taking them when they are out they are classed as wild birds and he has got a licence then this is wrong. I’ve got buzzards and plenty of pheasants when I live and the pheasants are still running around in the field and garden. The buzzard seems to be in the field eating worms more than hunting pheasants.

      Editor’s Comment. It seems the buzzards that are taking pheasants are rouge birds, these birds only appear to live and hunt around pheasant pens. Make the pens hawk proof and that will be an end to the killing inside the pen. Only Natural England can tell us if licences are being issued to kill buzzards that predate wild pheasants outside the rearing pens.