I thought I knew what the real definition of sport was until I read an article that recently appeared in one of the major online newspapers.
Apparently, annually, we release 55 million pheasants and red legged partridges and 2.6 million mallards into the countryside so that they can be shot for sport! This volume released into the UK each year now represents more than the total biomass of all UK native birds.
When I read this the meaning of the word sport suddenly went all fuzzy. It was like I was staring at the real definition in the dictionary through somebody else’s reading glasses. Some words were out of focus, some overlapped each other and the rest made no sense to me at all.
It then made me angry. Not because I had, for a brief moment, lost the ability to read but because of the absolute horror of what I'd just read.
Sport? Just think about that for a moment while you look at these pictures.
Aside from the effects on the flora, fauna and wildlife in the habitats they are released into, this year there is a much more serious potential threat from the senseless release of these birds into the countryside. Avian flu or highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) to give it is full name.
These poor creatures are bred in captivity abroad, imported and then held in pens while they mature before release. Pheasants in the UK have previously tested positive for HPAI – first in Lincolnshire in 2018 and a further 13 times since, on three premises with commercial breeding game for release.
The RSPB is calling for the total cancellation of the shooting season in 2022 to try and limit the catastrophic spread of bird flu that has already devastated seabird populations around the UK’s coast this year, leaving hundreds of thousands of birds dead since it arrived last winter in the Solway Firth in the north west. (Ref: Harry Cockburn, Environmental Correspondent)
I don’t pretend to understand a fraction about the game shooting environment and the industry around it other than I know it has gone on for centuries. It no doubt brings in revenue, supports livelihoods and is a way of life for many people who rely on it. That doesn’t make it right.
To me it's just a barbaric slaughter that a group of, let's face it, privileged people call sport. These beautiful birds go from commercial pens into an unfamiliar environment, where they are then terrorised into the air by beaters and dogs and brutally torn apart by a cloud of shotgun pellets.
If you know the true definition of the word, it’s definitely not sport and this year more than any other it needs to stop…!
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I live on the South Coast of England, close to the South Downs National Park and am totally obsessed with bird photography. I'm also passionate about bird conservation, addicted to good coffee and am very partial to a little nip of a smoky Islay whisky from time to time.