A statement issued by the Welsh Government on 16 July indicates that the shooting of birds for sport on Welsh Government Woodland Estate could be phased out. The statement read: ‘We are pleased Natural Resources Wales will cease any further gamebird rearing pens or release cages being sited on the Woodland Estate. The Minister for Environment will be meeting NRW to discuss how we bring an end to pheasant shooting leases on the Welsh Government estate.’
Last week (12 July 2018), Natural Resources Wales voted to allow the shooting of game birds to continue on Welsh Government Woodland Estate, despite overwhelming public opposition and a clear message of support for a ban by Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn AC/AM. It would appear that NRW’s decision was an attempt to appease the pro-shooting lobbyists while making it as difficult as possible for them to operate shoots on its land by prohibiting the use of release pens.
The Environment Minister wrote to NRW ahead of the Board meeting, pointing out that their review had largely disregarded the ethics of shooting birds for sport on public land – the very issue that started the campaign: ‘… the review did not go as far as to consider some of the wider policy and ethical issues.’
Her letter continued: ‘Whilst shooting on private land is for the landowner to decide, we need to take account of wider considerations and public views in considering what happens on the Welsh Government estate. Given the wider policy issues and concerns, the Welsh Government does not support commercial pheasant shooting, or the breeding of gamebirds or the birds being held in holding pens on the estate prior to release on the Welsh Government Estate. I would ask our position on these issues is fed into the NRW discussions of future shooting activities on the Welsh Government estate and you consider not renewing the pheasant shooting lease agreements as they expire.’
There has been overwhelming public support for Animal Aid’s campaign (12,700 people signed a petition calling for a ban on shooting on NRW land) as well as from the League Against Cruel Sports which joined Animal Aid and commissioned a Yougov poll to gauge the views of Welsh citizens. In that poll, 76% of respondents said that they oppose the shooting of ‘game’ birds for sport on public land in Wales.
These figures are backed up by the results of the public consultation part of the review process. Of all the 4,700 responses received, 76% wanted a ban on shooting birds on NRW land. When considering only the responses from Welsh residents, 63% wanted a ban on shooting birds on NRW’s land.
Despite the level of support for a ban, at the 12 July Board meeting, NRW’s recommendations to allow shooting to continue on its land were accepted. However, following a meeting with the Minister on 19 July, NRW sent Animal Aid the following statement:
The NRW Board approved the four recommendations made in the Review of the use of firearms on land managed by NRW and agreed the position statement. The Board accepted the position taken by the Minister for Environment in her letter to NRW. NRW staff will now look at how to implement the Minister’s position, considering any legal implications of reviewing the leasing of rights for pheasant shooting.
Animal Aid and the League Against Cruel Sports will continue to monitor any further developments.