A FRENCH ban on the export of pheasant and partridge eggs and poults due to avian influenza is likely to have huge repercussions on the UK's sporting estates and their local economies.

While more than 100 cases of avian influenza have been reported in the UK in the past six months, the level of H5N1 outbreaks in France has been concentrated in the Vendee and Loire Atlantique regions – some of the main suppliers of game birds and eggs to the British gamekeeping market – as well as in French game birds themselves.

"Sourcing any sort of pheasant or partridge stock is proving to be a real nightmare, when the French have put a ban on all exports," said one Perthshire gamekeeper, who wished to remain anonymous. "We're already a month late buying in eggs for hatching and there is just not enough stock in the UK to service the market.

"Lowground shooting in the past has accounted for 25% of our turnover, and it provided additional income for the local economy when we'd take in 25-30 staff per day for beating so it is going to hit a lot of the estates hard if we're unable to source the birds," he said.

According to Dominic Boulton, spokesperson for The Game Farmers' Association, roughly 50% of the lowground birds released each year are imported, mostly as eggs from France. In 2019, the last 'normal' year of sales pre-Covid, roughly 20million pheasants and 8 to 10m partridges were imported from France, the majority as eggs for hatching in the UK.

Add in the increase in the price of the poults, which have risen 50-60p per head as opposed to the norm of 5-15p, and the rise in feed, labour and fuel, and the cost of a day's shooting later in the year, early 2023, looks set to soar.

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Mr Boulton said the bulk of eggs will not be arriving from France for the majority of this rearing season. However, he added that there is a small hope that imports may resume once the blanket restriction zone is removed, the local restriction zones are lifted and the relevant surveillance periods have been observed.

At present, he has no concrete idea of the timescale on this and he believes it will not be enough to make up for all the shortfall already experienced.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “We are beginning to hear of shoots in Scotland being impacted by the bird flu situation and the lack of supply from France. It looks like the worst hit will be partridge, but it is impacting pheasant shoots as well.

“We have heard fears of people being made redundant and we can only hope this is not the case. The larger, more commercial shoots have become heavily reliant on poults from France, so it is a worrying situation, which we will monitor closely."