FILE PHOTO: A Springer Spaniel retrieves a pheasant during a pheasant hunt in Stokenchurch
By Sybille de La Hamaide
PARIS (Reuters) - It may be a lesser consequence of Brexit, but Britain's shooting parties may find themselves short of pheasants and partridges to kill next season if transport delays prevent chicks being imported from France, game exporters say.
Game shooting is a niche but passionately pursued pastime in Britain, with leading shoots charging tens of thousands of pounds for a weekend. The industry also attracts wealthy foreign visitors to England and Scotland for the game seasons.
Yet about 40 percent of the pheasants and nine in every 10 of the partridges shot in Britain are imported, nearly all from France, where exporters specialise in breeds that are popular in Britain, such as ring-neck pheasants and red-legged partridges.
The birds are exported between March and June as eggs or day-old chicks and reared on British farms or on country estates before being released to the wild for shooting when the season opens: Sept. 1 for partridge and Oct. 1 for pheasant.
Brexit, which is set to kick in on March 29 barring a last-minute delay, poses a problem because it will likely mean longer customs, health and veterinary checks at the border, which will threaten the survival of fragile game hatchlings.
"It is mainly day-old chicks that will be a problem, we only have 24 hours to send them over," said Denis Bourasseau, whose company Gibovendee in western France controls about half the exports of game bird eggs and hatchlings to Britain.
"There is a real risk for British hunters in case of disrupted logistics, be it a hard Brexit or not. If we can no longer ensure the welfare of animals, concretely we will no longer be able to export them."
He estimates British shoots will see about a 10 percent reduction in the 40 million gamebirds released each year as a result of Brexit. Shortages would have been greater in the past, when most game birds were exported live.
The UK Game Farmers' Association (GFA) hopes that chicks will be allowed to be "fast-tracked" through border arrangements. But French exporters who have made such requests said the French farm ministry has not yet approved them.
The number of game bird chicks available in the UK next season would eventually depend on transport conditions, British game officials say.
"Laws on both sides of the Channel will rightly prevent any transport movements that have an adverse impact on animal welfare," a GFA spokesman said.
(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, additional reporting by Nigel Hunt in London; Editing by Luke Baker and Alison Williams)