The Avian Influenza outbreak in France is set to significantly impact the UK shooting sector this season. Dr Kenny Nutting BVetMed MRCVS of St David’s Game Bird Services updates us on the current situation in the UK and in Europe.

Currently in the UK, a large amount of partridge and pheasant are imported from France. This year however, the UK shooting sector will be significantly impacted by the critical Avian Influenza situation and the lion’s share of egg and chick imports from France are not going to be allowed due to animal health legislation around avian influenza.

There have been continuous conversations around importation licensing, and we have unfortunately now had verbal confirmation from multiple reliable sources that the French authorities and European Commission have agreed that the 90 days policy does exist for export to a non-EU country. Sadly, this confirms that the majority of eggs and chicks that were expected from France in June will not be arriving. We will be discussing with our customer base the best ways for future proofing their businesses for 2023 and onwards.

Certainly, AI cases have been higher this year than ever before, but the situation has been relatively under control in the UK, particularly when you compare it to our European counterparts. As we now know, sadly the situation is extremely severe in several European countries, including France. In particular, the Vendée, Loire-Alantique, and Maine region, which are well known for their breeding avian species such as ducks, geese and chickens has been badly affected - such a high general bird population has unfortunately been beneficial to the spread of Avian Influenza. I am, however, sure that there are plans in place to limit this in future years.

Relatively speaking there have not been many French gamebird breeding stocks culled. The French authorities have been very good at testing high status breeding flocks of all avian species and, significantly, they have been proactively culling all non-breeding birds that surround high value sites such as breeding birds, hatcheries and egg packing stations in attempt to stem the flow of bird flu but keep up breeding stock to supply various countries, including France.

Thankfully, because a large proportion of French breeding flocks have been saved, and although supply for 2022 will be severely affected, there is hope for a good consistent supply of eggs for the 2023 season. We rely on France for a large proportion of partridge and a slightly smaller proportion of pheasant so the UK shooting season for partridges will sadly be the worst affected. We are lucky as a country that we produce more pheasant laying stocks, so the pheasant shooting season will be slightly less affected.

We are expecting to be rearing into August, which will help a large proportion of smaller shoots that are happy to delay the start of their shooting season in order to ensure that they actually have a shooting season.

This year is, therefore, a clear opportunity for everybody in the shooting sector to support each other. The Guns should support the shoots and the shoots should therefore support the game farms which then support hatcheries as much as possible. There is a natural cycle, and we must keep doing our best. We’ve learnt in the last couple of years that there is a huge demand for shooting and therefore, the overall market is extremely buoyant despite the lack of supply this year. However, moving forward, I am certain that our sector will regain full strength.

To support the sector, we are offering FREE veterinary health and welfare visits. One question that I am being asked by game farms and shoots is “How do I become more sustainable?” This is the question of the moment. We must ensure that shoots are environmentally sustainable, sustainable as a business, and sustainable in the eyes of the public.

We, as a country, have heavily relied on France and other European countries because they are genetically secure; have excellent climatic conditions and have been extremely competitive from a cost perspective. Moving forward in the medium to long term, there is no doubt that the UK market will become more self-sufficient. However, the European market will likely continue to play a large part of our sector because the level of investment and infrastructure has been so great in the last decade.