Thursday, 6 March 2014

Why is it important to improve biodiversity on your shoot?

GWCT Advisor Mike Swan explains

These days we hear lots about ‘best practice’, but frankly I do not care for the term. Best practice implies that some ultimate goal has been achieved and that we can therefore sit back, but it seems to me that this is rarely true. Knowledge is ever improving and what seemed like the best way to do something 10 years ago, may well seem rather primitive today.

We know a great deal about good shoot management and good wildlife conservation these days, and yet our critics keep on attacking what we do. Over the last 20 or so years, we have published lots of work that shows conservation benefits from game management activities. Whether it is woodland management, growing cover crops, or managing fragile upland ecosystems, we know a great deal about how to improve our shoots and benefit a range of other wildlife.

But, no matter how good it all is, there is always the scope to do better: hence the Biodiversity Assessment Scheme from our advisory team. With a long history of providing carefully tailored advice to individual shoots, no one is better placed to set you up with an improvement plan. We will not just think about how to make the shoot run successfully, but how to maximise the broader wildlife benefit too.

For example, can you get a bit more value from your cover crops? Maize with sorghum is pretty much a mainstay in the south, but the value of these crops to farmland birds like linnets and yellowhammers is small. However, strips of small seeded crops like millet and quinoa would offer a valuable winter food source. If these crops were part of a well thought through plan, they would probably make the maize and sorghum blocks more attractive to pheasants and partridges as well.

Similar improvements are likely to be possible in most other habitats too. Small projects that enhance the environment may seem a little trivial, but the sum effect when added up over the whole shoot can be quite substantial. Spending a few days each winter cutting out woodland glades can make a big difference to the breeding warblers after a few years, as well as giving better flushing and holding habitat for the pheasants.

Make no mistake, shooting as we know it is under pressure, and that applies at the individual shoot level too. Having a designated conservation policy in place, with achievable but challenging targets, keeps everyone focused and helps to deliver a better future. So, why not book a visit from your local advisor, and see how you might improve the biodiversity contribution from your shoot this year.

The Purdey Awards for Game and Conservation

Each year the Purdey Awards recognise the efforts of those shoots that have achieved outstanding results in improving game bird habitats and the biodiversity of their land.

This year a £12,500 prize fund will be shared between Gold, Silver, Bronze and Special Award winners.

You can find out more about entering your shoot here.

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