Image credit: Gary Noon, Creative Commons

Sometimes you see media campaigns and policy stances so ill-conceived, so clearly counterproductive, that you have to wonder what the person who came up with them was thinking: are they actually so embarrassed by the cause they are defending that they are subconsciously seeking to sabotage it, as some people do through behaviour in their personal lives?

I really can’t think of another reason for a press release that came out last week from the British Association for Conservation and Shooting, otherwise known as the “shooting industry lobby”.

In the context of the government consulting on a new food strategy, (on which I have written elsewhere), it claimed that “game meat should be integral” to the strategy.

It immediately made me think, as I’m sure it will most readers, of the enormous piles of pheasants being bulldozed into mass burials that The Times, not the natural critic of the shooting industry, exposed earlier this year. As the newspaper said, “these shooters treat the pursuit much as they would a low-grade video game… up to 600 birds can be killed six days a week for the length of the season”.

We know, roughly, how many pheasants are released from mass cage breeding programmes each year in the UK, 43 million. About 13 million are shot, so 70% of them have no chance of reaching the human food chain.

We know where many end up, under the wheels of cars, or in the mouths of foxes whose numbers flourish on the basis of this on-tap food supply. (Until of course the shooting lobby says they have to be culled to protect “game” animals.)

The carrion is a boon to the corvids, who are then killed to protect more “game”, grouse that are protected to be shot on the Inglorious Twelfth.

So 13 million shot: quite a carnage for so-called “sport”.

Some are consumed by the shooters, but really, if you are shooting 600 a day, how much pheasant can you eat?

Some end up in markets, although the price of these samples I encountered in Sheffield market, £3 for a “brace” (pair), hardly suggests a huge consumer demand.

And then for health, there’s the question of lead. Astonishingly we’re still polluting our countryside (and the shot animals) with lead shot, despite its known deleterious effects on human (particularly child) health.

If we were to assume that 0.5% of the British population eat pheasant – I’d suggest a very, very generous estimate — that leaves them with around 40 pheasants a year each to eat. I am sure some people manage that, but not very many.

And of course these are not “game”, healthy wild meat that has bred and lived naturally. It is a giant factory production line that just dumps its products out into the wild with the hope they’ll be shot.

In the meantime of course they are likely to have significant negative effects on native wildlife, amphibians and reptiles, and butterflies and moths through predation of caterpillars.

Of course pheasants aren’t the only game: there’s also red grouse. Not captive-bred, but being reared in near-factory conditions on landscapes cleared of most other species to make space and safety for them – from innocent hares to corvids just living their lives.

Not a sustainable option – indeed pressure to ban the driven grouse shooting that creates this supply, due to its environmental and downstream flooding impact is growing steadily.

As for venison, well with rewilding needed to store carbon over significant parts of Britain, we need to reshape habits (and bring back natural predators) to control their numbers, not look to encourage them.

To suggest game meat is a significant part of the British food supply is, quite frankly laughable. But it does provide an opportunity to focus on the practical reality of the hidden indiscriminate slaughter that’s happening in our countryside.