While names are redacted, the FOI release also shows that a senior policy advisor at DEFRA responded to the BGA’s letter taking it up on the suggestion of having a meeting to discuss the proposal.
In September 2019, the BGA wrote to Lord Gardiner - then parliamentary under-secretary for the department - to highlight a “new opportunity” for it to make use of the gamebird industry body’s inspectors to monitor the sector’s environmental impact and compliance.
The offer was made during a review period when the government was looking into how releases of common pheasant and red-legged partridge are managed on or near European protected sites.
DEFRA had been pushed into the review following legal action from campaign group Wild Justice, over the government’s alleged failure to assess the ecological impacts of releasing the gamebirds.
“As DEFRA modernises its policy framework for the shooting sector it faces the perennial problem of finding reliable evidence while navigating vociferous campaigners and entrenched landowners”, reads the letter, before going on to say that the public benefit of such policy work is “undermined by lack of enforcement across millions of acres of remote countryside”.
It continues: “This letter is to alert you to the new opportunity provided by the hundreds of annual inspections now being carried out by Lloyds Register on behalf of the BGA.
“Its inspectors started work last year and have been trained to monitor the 23 land and animal welfare standards required by the BGA. These standards are closely aligned to DEFRA policy.”
The BGA is an industry body which, according to its own website, is focused “exclusively” on the promotion of British game.
The BGA notes in its letter how “profoundly grateful” it is to the government for its help in finding new markets for British game, and says the department’s “thoughtfulness to us deserves reciprocation”.
Neither DEFRA nor the BGA were able to confirm to ENDS at the time of publication if the proposed meeting took place, or if the proposal had been developed.
The government is currently facing fresh legal action on the issue of gamebird releases from Wild Justice, a campaign group formed by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery.
Commenting on the BGA letter, Mark Avery said: “This isn’t so much poachers turned gamekeepers, it’s gamekeepers staying as gamekeepers”. He added that it looked like an industry that should be being regulated simply offering to regulate itself.
The group had previously claimed an “historic environmental victory” following the gamebird review last year after DEFRA announced it would bring certain gamebirds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
DEFRA committed to a number of actions, including creating a buffer zone around protected sites in which no gamebirds will be released.
However, in June this year Wild Justice issued pre-action protocol letters to DEFRA and said it would be revisiting the issue as it does not consider the government to have done what it told the court it would do.