Reflections on day(s) out …. road casualties & the taxing issue of grouse?

Spring is here, certainly as far as some of the wildlife is concerned.  Primroses are in flower in sheltered riverside woodland, Wild Arum leaves are well advanced and I even managed to find Lesser Celandine in flower, but the most unexpected observation of the day was a pair of Mandarin duck.

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If I’d been in a local park, perhaps then not totally unexpected, but along the River Wharfe?

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Other indicators of Spring were Grey Wagtails nest site prospecting, Dippers dashing up and down stream and Goosanders are paired.  The anticipated Kingfisher posed obligingly, albeit distantly after the usual fly past low over the water.

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Plenty of Oystercatchers also prospecting the rivers and a party of 16 on the banks of the Strid.  The evocative bubbling song of the Curlew is just a joy to hear and four Red Kites en route home was a wonderful sight too.  One of the birds was perched a top a large tree in someone’s roadside garden, now that some garden tick!   Sadly though the roads are littered with avian casualties …. pheasants!  That set me thinking about Saturday’s BAWC Conference again and an interesting point made by one of the speakers about Pheasants and taxation.

A bit of research and one could not help but wonder why the current state of confusion is allowed to persist. For example the definition of pheasant rearing, sounds simple enough?  Defra regard it as a ‘sporting activity’ or business. On the other hand HMRC regard it as an agricultural operation.

Customs has determined that pheasants are ‘commonly used as food for human consumption’ (VAT notice 701/37/94) and so pheasant rearing operations enjoy a zero VAT burden: they can reclaim any VAT that they pay on their outgoings and do not have to charge VAT when selling bulk consignments of their seven week old birds to shoot operators.

But while Customs & Excise considers the pheasant producers to be agricultural enterprises – thus freeing them from the standard VAT rate of 17.5% – the agriculture ministry (DEFRA) more often than not defines them as ‘primarily sporting’ businesses. This means that they are exempt from the basic welfare laws that apply to all other farmed animals. These include the 1968 Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. Nor do the relevant Welfare Codes apply.

As if that is not confusing enough the Valuation Agency Office, responsible for compiling business ratings sides with DEFRA rather than Customs & Excise in determining that pheasant producers are in the sporting rather than agricultural business.

This turns out to be bad news for the producers. For while farmers are exempt from paying business rates, virtually all other businesses – sporting included – are not.

Another important reason why pheasant producers have not been listed for business rates is that the industry has promoted the Customs & Excise line that rearing pheasants is an agricultural activity and therefore non-rateable.

DEFRA, the agriculture ministry, has contributed to the confusion over whether the pheasant industry is about food or sport. As we have seen, it exempts pheasant rearing from the farm welfare laws because such businesses are ‘primarily sporting’. Yet it recently awarded the industry a financial grant of £150,000 to help market ‘game’ on the grounds that pheasant meat is ‘a quality agricultural product’ (16 March 2002 letter from Elliot Morley to Animal Aid). It is worth noting here that neither game rearing nor shooting are included in the definition of agriculture in the Town and Country Planning Acts.

One might be forgiven for wondering if all this could be reviewed and revised that there would be clarity and potentially more revenue into Government coffers?

The ongoing persecution of raptors and notably the plight of our magnificent ‘skydancer’ is causing scrutiny of wider business interests than might otherwise have been the case had the shooting industry sorted itself out?  We accept that to gain concensus amongst any group of people can be nigh on impossible but the incalcitrance evident in some quarters can only fuel determination for accountability across the piece?

Pheasants like grouse and other game are shot, they are often marketted as healthy and organic yet they can have been fed medicated grit and shot with lead pellets. A report by the Food Standards Agency explained anyone who frequently eats game shot with lead should cut back on their consumption but pregnant women and small children are particularly vulnerable.

According to the FSA, eating lead can harm the developing brain and has been linked to lower IQ in children while adults can suffer from kidney and heart problems.

Mark Avery has recently had reason to enter into correspondence about the health benefits of game, notably and perhaps not surprisingly grouse.  It would seem that his forthcoming “Inglorious” might make interesting and maybe even uncomfortable reading in due course?

Dare we contemplate researching the financing of moorland managed for grouse …. ?

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