What does it mean for the future of Game Shooting?
Whilst we had heard of avian flu and seen reports of generally modest numbers of birds dying from it over recent years, no-one in the shooting world could have imagined the horrendous consequences of it on the 2022/23 Game Shooting season here in the UK.
Avian flu has been around for a very long time. However, in late 2021, early 2022 Avian Flu got a very strong foothold in three of France’s biggest poultry and Game breeding regions; the Pays de la Loire, the Maine-et-loire and the Vendee.
It is believed that approximately 75% of all Partridges released in the UK originate from eggs bred on these Game Farms as well as 25% of all Pheasants. In order to prevent the spread of Avian Flu, UK and EU law prevents all imports for 90 days following an outbreak.
To say that this has had a massive adverse effect on Shoots in the UK is an understatement, with many not being able to get any eggs, chicks or poults and hence either cancelling their entire shooting programme for the 2022/23 season or significantly reducing it. Those Shoots which sourced their birds bred on UK Game Farms (or they incubated, hatched and reared themselves), clearly did not have this problem, but nowadays not that many Shoots do this.
What does this mean for the future?
We believe that it would be very foolish for Estates and Shoots to think that Avian Flu will not be a possible threat in 2023. It might die out in France, but it is currently well rooted there and interestingly also in many other parts of the world – certain Game Farms in America are similarly affected leading to shortages of birds there. Because of weather advantages (to enable early laying of Partridges in particular and hence mature Partridges being released for early season shooting), the current supply chain has evolved with the resultant reliance on France for Partridges and also for around a quarter of our Pheasants. Going forwards, we think this is not sustainable and we should instead be looking for UK Game Farms to be much less reliant on imported eggs/day olds. This will mean a considerable investment by them, and whilst it is easier to do for Pheasants than it is for Partridges, we would urge Shoots to get involved NOW with their Game suppliers, to make sure that there is not a repeat next season of what has happened this, if Avian Flu continues in much the same way as at present. For those of us old enough to remember the 1960’s-1970’s, most Pheasant Shoots then had a laying pen behind the Keeper’s house, where between 120-200 Pheasants were kept over winter. The eggs were collected and then hatched on site (or later on, specialist hatchers were developed) before the Shoots themselves reared the birds from day olds out on rearing fields; you do not see that many of these now! Whilst this does not prevent Avian Flu becoming a problem going forward, it does mean that there would be much less chance of an outbreak in the UK, causing the same sort of problems and on the same scale as has occurred this year. Releasing Partridges mature enough for early season shooting is going to be a challenge without having the weather advantages of Game Farms situated across the channel. However, a later start to the season would be much preferable to no start at all!
We are currently talking to all of our Game Suppliers for Estates where we manage/consult on as we believe that being proactive now is going to be very important for the future. We would also suggest that splitting bought in birds, whether day olds or poults, so that a Shoot is perhaps supplied by two different Game Farms, is likely to provide additional protection, making sure that if one Game Farm is affected, the Shoot will still be able to function at least in part.
In short there is a lot we need to learn from what has happened this year and doing more of the same is almost certainly not the answer. JM Osborne Rural & Sporting is heavily involved in running and advising Shoots up and down the Country. If you would like any advice or assistance with your Shoot planning for next season, please get in touch with us on 01295 277197 or by email to email@example.com