Leighton Hall Estate, September 2022:
• Pheasant pens containing numerous dead and dying birds.
• Dying birds gasping for breath, arching their necks, exposing frail, skeletal, featherless bodies.
• Weaker pheasants aggressively pecked and even potentially cannibalised by others.
• Dead pheasants being cannibalised.
• Prone birds whom investigators could barely believe they were still alive in such appalling condition.
• Water troughs and feeders which were empty and covered in extreta/scum at the time of our visit.
• Mixed breeds of birds contained in pens (eg pheasant and guinea fowl, increasing risk of disease transmission).
• Sick reared birds in close proximity to the wild birds of the area, increasing risk of disease transmission).
Acting upon a tip off of extreme animal welfare concern, HIT investigators visited the Leighton Hall pheasant shoot in Lancashire in September 2022.
In footage from the estate, pheasants are shown gasping and contorting their wretched bodies: sometimes skeletal and often featherless. Many had raw skin and open wounds. Some were attacked by other birds as they lay dying: too weak to resist or even ward off the flies tormenting them.
Highly experienced investigators described the scenes as some of the most disturbing and upsetting they have ever seen. Leighton Hall prides itself on “good environment and sustainability practices across all aspects of the business” – yet allowed filthy conditions and extreme suffering in their pheasant pens.
There is currently a critical Avian Flu outbreak affecting the UK. In August this year, the RSPB implored ministers to ban the release of pheasants and partridges, as a preventative measure to protect the UK’s wild birds. Estates like Leighton Hall have continued to introduce reared birds for recreational shooting regardless. Poor hygiene practice increase the risks further: the Avian Flu virus and other diseases are secreted in bird droppings and contaminated water. Footage from Leighton Hall shows water containers caked in excreta, scum and containing filthy water.
In addition, despite the government’s vehement warnings about the critical importance of disposing of dead birds properly to minimise the spread of disease, the ground at Leighton Hall was littered with bodies in various stages of decomposition.
The Leighton Hall Estate forms 10% of the Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is a direct neighbour to the RSPB Leighton Moss Nature Reserve. The risks to other local fauna and flora from such irresponsible practices can hardly be overstated.
The scenes were even more shocking given the wholesome image portrayed on the Estate’s website. Leighton Hall hosts weddings, outdoor education for children and adult learning – amongst other services. It is barely imaginable that the estate hosts glamourous weddings and children’s forest schools, while allowing such carnage behind the “Private – No Access” signs. The scale of the suffering witnessed by our team was so extensive and immediate that the site was reported to the RSPCA as an urgent priority.
We are informed that the RSPCA and police attended the site. However by the time this visit was arranged, the gamekeeper had *somehow* been alerted and was able to clear away the evidence. Despite the horrifying footage obtained, we believe no further is action is being taken. This very clearly illustrates how the current UK animal welfare system utterly fails to protect so many suffering animals.
The Leighton Hall Estate is owned by Lucy and Danny Arthurs. Please write to them now, urging them to end pheasant shooting on their land. Please support HIT and Keep the Ban in our ongoing work to end bloodsports crime and cruelty.