Pheasant shooting will be banned on public land in Wales in a ruling welcomed by animal welfare groups.
The decision by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) follows three years of campaigning by vegan organization Animal Aid and the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) - including a petition to the Government agency signed by more than 12,500 people.
Recent polling shows the majority (75 percent) of the Welsh public disagreeing with shooting birds for 'sport'.
"Leasing of public land for pheasant shooting has become extremely controversial in recent years because of the considerable negative impact on wildlife and the environment," according to a statement from LACS.
"Large numbers of factory-farmed pheasants are released into government woodland to be gunned down by shooting parties for 'sport'. Many birds are not killed instantly and hit the ground suffering from painful wounds and injuries, only to be killed by having their necks broken or being hit over the head with a beater's stick."
The charity adds that native predators - including foxes, stoats, weasels, crows and magpies – are killed to protect the birds so they can be shot. This type of woodland management results in an overall decrease in biodiversity, including displacing threatened wild birds, upsetting the delicate ecology and threatening rare butterfly species.
Opposition to shooting
"Natural Resources Wales is to be commended in the strongest terms for ensuring pheasant shooting in the Welsh national forest is being brought to an end" said Bethan Collins, Senior Public Affairs Officer (Wales) at League Against Cruel Sports.
"This outcome reflects strong opposition to the practice from the Welsh Government, over 75 percent of the public who oppose shooting birds for sport and an urgent need to reverse damage to wildlife and the environment on the public estate.
"We thank those who have relentlessly pursued an end to pheasant shooting in the Welsh national forest, including Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn AM and the public who have backed us. This is as much a victory for them as it is for the wildlife which has now been spared the gun."
Killing for sport
We are delighted that NRW has banned the cruel shooting of pheasants on public land," added Fiona Pereira, Campaigns Manager at Animal Aid.
"The campaign has shown that the vast majority of people strongly oppose the killing of animals for 'sport' and want to see an end to it.
"NRW can now use that land for positive activities that are kind to animals and to the environment, and, importantly, set an example for other public bodies that also want to bring about an end to the shooting of birds. We'd like to thank all the animal lovers who helped the campaign – and secured a victory for game birds."
Pro-bloodsports pressure group the Countryside Alliance claimed the decision was based on putting opinion polling above 'scientific evidence' and will lead to job losses.
"NRW has been forced to take a position that the board knows is not supported by the evidence," Countryside Alliance Wales Director Rachel Evans said.
"The board's decision goes entirely against the recommendations of NRW's own review into the subject which proved that pheasant shooting delivers on sustainable management of natural resources and on the well-being goals for Wales as set out in the Future Generations Wales Act.
"The actions by NRW board today will inevitably mean the loss of jobs in some of the most rural part of Wales who are dependent on shooting."