The RSPB has warned of an “unfolding catastrophe” in the UK, as it called for an immediate moratorium on the release of gamebirds for shooting.
It comes in response to growing concerns over an outbreak of avian influenza.
A precautionary approach is being urged over the release of potentially infected birds.
It is hoped that by doing so, a further “catastrophic” spread of the disease can be limited.
Every year, around 55 million pheasants and red-legged partridges, as well as 2.6 million mallard ducks, are specially reared in captivity before being released in the countryside to be shot for sport.
However, pheasants in the UK have tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).
RSPB has stated that to limit the impact of the outbreak on wild birds, the deliberate release of captive birds into the countryside must be stopped for this year.
Jeff Knott, RSPB’s director of policy, underlined the need to “take responsibility” in limiting the impact of the disease.
“In recent months we have witnessed an unfolding catastrophe taking place on our wild birds,” he said.
“It has been emotionally tough to witness, but we are not helpless and there are many positive actions that we can take to help them weather this storm and reduce the risk of exacerbating this crisis.
“This disease originated in poultry in Asia before passing into wild birds. It is another human pressure on beleaguered wildlife across the world and in the UK specifically.
“We must all now take responsibility and do everything we can to limit the impact in the immediate term, and to implement and fund species conservation programmes to build resilience in our wildlife for the future.”
The warning by the RSPB comes as a separate call is made by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).
Its chairman, Alex Hogg MBE, has claimed that grouse season this year could help buffer some remote rural communities from the cost-of-living crisis.
Grouse shooting season in Scotland begins on Friday, August 12.
The SGA has indicated that the revenue boost from the season could help in the face of a looming recession.
“In a stable year, grouse shooting brings over £30m to remote communities in a short window, helping a range of spin-off small businesses at a quiet time after the summer holidays,” said Hogg.
“The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone in the countryside. We are going to need all areas of the economy firing, if we are to get back to some form of stability.”
Hogg also acknowledged that Avian flu will limit the pheasant and partridge seasons.
“I know of some part-time gamekeepers around me, in the Scottish Borders, who will not be able to host shoots at all this year because they were reliant on poults being imported from overseas,” he said.
“Some are turning their hand to other things and hoping to source birds for the 2023 season, but it is worrying and we hope to be able to sit down with shooting bodies, game farmers, vets and respective UK governments to look at future contingencies.”
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