Spring is now in full flow and there is still plenty of work on the shoot that I am a member of. Due to Covid-19 restrictions no ‘full-on’ work parties could be held. However, with lockdown now easing and vaccinations being rolled out across the country, we are finally able to catch up on some of the hard work that needs to be done. And it’s not only to run a successful shoot but also to help the wildlife and improve habitat.
What is a cover crop for game management?
Planting cover crops is one part of the work on the shoot. A cover crop is an area of the field planted for the benefit of game birds and other wildlife. It’s usually field margins or unused parts of the field. Such areas provide natural food and shelter over the winter months. It is typically planted in strips along the edge of fields or woods in blocks between nesting habitat and farmland crops. The cover crops chosen need to have a suitable structure to provide shelter from above but also allow ease of movement and foraging at ground level.
We have made the decision to plant some new covers this year with advice from a local gamekeeper and BASC. We planted a kale, millet and fodder radish mix. This will provide plenty of cover during the late winter months and food from the seeds of the crops throughout the year. Not only the game birds will benefit from this but also other wildlife, like songbirds.
Back at the start of March, our shoot committee decided that the shoot and its members should be participating in more conservation projects. This would help create a positive impact across our ground. So, work on the shoot began and songbird boxes of various sizes have been built and installed, particularly in our woodland and thick hedgerow areas. So far, we have managed a total of 27. It is a mix of open fronts for robins, pied wagtails and spotted flycatchers, and closed boxes with 25mm, 28mm and 32mm holes aimed at attracting species such as blue tit, coal tit, pied flycatcher, nuthatch, and many others. Thankfully, they were received with a warm welcome. We have already had some activity in 13 of our boxes.
We have seen recent discussion on social media over the introduction of duck nesting tubes and their great success with producing high hatches of wild mallard ducklings. Nine of these have been built and suspended above the water on two of our reasonably sized ponds. We were thrilled to see nine ducklings, hatched in one of the tubes, and their mother swimming through the reeds. Another hen has been photographed (from a distance) sitting in a duck nesting tube incubating her eggs. This is a great project to help boost wild mallard population.
Pest and predator control
Pest and predator control is one of the most important jobs included in our work on the shoot. The main pests and predators that affect our shoot are foxes, magpies, and carrion crows. We do control grey squirrels and rats to the best of our ability and tend not to have a massive problem with stoats or weasels. Currently, we have eased off our fox control due to dependent cubs down in the earths; we tend to control them heavily in February to mid-March.
We control magpies and carrion crows during January until beginning of April. We follow the terms and conditions of the current general licence 40: to help ease off predation pressure on ground, hedgerow and woodland nesting birds. This helps many ground-nesting species such as curlew, lapwing, woodcock, bullfinch, pied flycatcher and song thrush. We control pest birds by shooting and using a Larsen trap. These methods have worked well for us. We see great success in limiting the numbers of both species and considerable improvement in songbird numbers.
General repairs and cleaning of equipment
Work on the shoot does include a lot of cleaning and maintenance of equipment, too. In an ordinary year, the general cleaning of equipment would be done at the end of the season, especially of the drinkers and feeders around/within the pens. However, due to Covid-19 and the government restrictions, we have only just been given the opportunity to get on top of our usual work. We have given the storage room a good sweep out to make sure it is all neat for when all our spare kit is put back in. The drinkers and feeders were cleaned, disinfected, and put into storage and will stay in there until June. They will be brought out and distributed in the release pen and some of the drives for the rest of the year to provide clean water and food for the pheasants and other wildlife.
Strong winds and heavy snow at the start of February brought down branches which damaged some of our pens. Luckily, the damage was not as serious as it could have been. A chainsaw, a few extra posts and some new mesh did the job and the repairs were done in no time at all. Then we cleared some of the debris from the edges of each pen. We have also cut down the long cover around them to create room for the electric fence. This makes it easier for the birds to find the pop holes, too.
Even though this might sound like a lot of work, there is still a long way to go before we are ready for the next season. I’m sure it will be here in the blink of an eye.
Here are two great books for anyone involved in game shooting and management:
- The Knowledge by the GWCT. It’s a great book explaining what goes on behind the scenes of a shoot outside of shoot days. The book also lists useful questions all Guns should ask when looking to book on a shoot day or join a syndicate. Every game shooter should own and read this book. It is packed full of great factual evidence and helps shooters identify shoots which comply to best practice: https://www.gwctknowledge.com/buy-the-book/
- On Your Shoot by Liam Bell who is the chairman of the NGO and an experienced gamekeeper. This book is a practical guide on running a shoot and is filled with great tips for a vast range of topics. It will help anyone trying to run a shoot, whether a club, syndicate or a commercial game shoot: https://www.quillerpublishing.com/product/on-your-shoot
- Here are some of the BASC infographics, which have great facts on the different benefits of shooting. They are a great resource to use in a discussion with someone who doesn’t understand what we do: https://basc.org.uk/media-centre/basc-infographics/
If conducting any form of management of pest bird species (woodpigeon, carrion crow, magpie, jay, etc.) you must follow the terms of the general licences issued by a governing body. Here is a link to the BASC website dedicated to general licences: https://basc.org.uk/gl/