Wednesday, 29 April 2015

What were you doing this morning at 5.30?

Our staff are counting the number of blackcock and greyhen on their display grounds at this time of year.

This footage was shot from a hide set up on a sheep farm and grouse moor in Perthshire. It’s too early to say what the trend is this year but on this site numbers were good.

More information on the blackgrouse can be found here.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Visit the Allerton Project for Open Farm Sunday on 7th June

Open Farm Sunday is one of the farming industry's big success stories and is managed by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming).

Since the first Open Farm Sunday in 2006 over 1000 farmers across the UK have opened their gates and welcomed people onto their farm for one Sunday each year.

2014 was a record year and farmers across the country welcomed more than 207,000 visitors through their gates. It is a fantastic opportunity for everyone, young and old, to discover at first-hand what it means to be a farmer and the fabulous work they do producing our food and managing the countryside.

Our Allerton Project in Leicestershire has always supported Open Farm Sunday and as the event is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year the team is promising to make this special celebration a wonderful day out for all the family.

As well as having the usual fun elements of animals, BIG farm machinery and exciting tractor and trailer rides a key element of the day is to give people a much better understanding of what we do in terms of sustainable farming and research. This often elicits a fascinating and very positive response from visitors.

There is frequently a considerable disconnect between farmers and consumers so opening up the farm to dispel some of the myths that exist is extremely satisfying for our wonderfully dedicated team.

We are always delighted that Kellogg’s, the famous cereal maker, takes part in Open Farm Sunday with us and this year they will be explaining how wheat from our fields ends up in your bowl of Bran Flakes. Free boxes of the product are given to every visitor attending the event.

In addition, local food producers will be displaying their wares with delicious local cider and home-made ice cream definite favourites of the day.

The Allerton ‘Open Farm Sunday’ event will take place on 7th June 2015 and the farm gates will be open from 10.00am to 4.00pm.

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Monday, 27 April 2015

Urging councils to spare the mower: our letter in The Times

Dear Sir

Charles Clover is right to highlight the desecration of road side verges, which provide vital habitats for many of our insect species, pollinators and other wildlife. (Comment, 19th April).

Visitors to the countryside might have noticed that hedges and field margins surrounding our farms are not as tidy as they used to be and this has been a real bonus for wildlife. Legal regulations introduced 10 years ago mean that farmers cannot cut any field hedges or grass margins from the end of February until the end of August. If we do so heavy fines are imposed. This reduction in hedge and margin management has been universally recognised as a very positive move, particularly for pollinators.

Many Councils need a wakeup call. They need to abide by the same rules as farmers or face heavy financial penalties. Wildlife would soon reap the rewards of this policy and perhaps cash-strapped Councils would be less keen to get out the mower.

Dr Alastair Leake
Director of Policy
GWCT Allerton Project Farm

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Friday, 24 April 2015

Corvid control - research & use

With the exception of the chough and the raven, the corvids are a widespread and common species. They have long been subject to human control by famers and gamekeepers in order to prevent damage to crops, livestock and game.

This control has relaxed in recent decades and we have seen a substantial increase in the numbers of some species as a consequence. Corvid control has also been used, in combination with other predators, to conserve some local threatened bird.

Corvid research

Until recently most gamekeepers believed that corvid traps were ineffectual. Since the GWCT believes in continually developing and refining techniques to ensure they are appropriate and effective so we took the initiative in the 1990’s and researched trap effectiveness and showed that corvid traps were a very successful tool; especially when used with a live decoy bird which also made them extremely species-specific.

The GWCT used Larsen live capture traps as part of the conservation ‘toolbox’ in its scientific predator removal studies at Salisbury Plain, Otterburn, Loddington, and Royston. These revealed the heavy impact of common predators on wild gamebirds, waders and songbirds.

The ongoing popularity of this humane and effective means of controlling corvids is its highly portable nature so it can be used for short periods of time during the breeding season and non-target captures can be promptly released unharmed.

Larsen trap use

Besides conservation of wild bird species, there are several other reasons (such as the protection of livestock or livestock feed and food hygiene) why people may lawfully trap corvids.

These are all clearly defined in the General Licence and GWCT factsheets provide more information on how to use traps effectively.

Any trap must be used by; the right people, in the right places, at the right time, under the right circumstances

2015 GWCT Scottish Auction - Bid online now

The 2015 GWCT Scottish Auction takes place on Thursday 14th May.

The event sold out within two weeks but that doesn't mean you have to miss out - you can view the auction lots online and bid on them right here.

Once again we have a spectacular range of over 125 lots that encompass shooting, stalking, fishing, holiday retreats, food and drink and art and jewellery.

Go to auction website >

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Guest blog by Steven Nesbitt, artist specialising in paintings of dogs

My name is Steven Nesbitt and I am an artist, specialising in paintings of dogs.

During the past twenty five years I have painted most dog breeds. I have a trade stand at Crufts and attend dog shows throughout the year. In my portraits, I paint in a realistic style and try to get a very good likeness of my subject.

If you would like a portrait of your own dog(s), I can take photographs myself to work from or you can email me your own photos. Prices start from £100 (16" x 12" oil on canvas).

My work can be seen here:  

For more information, please email or call 01953 600590.

My paintings are also available as limited edition prints and have been published as greetings cards and calendars.

Promote your business here

A GWCT Trade Membership entitles you to a FREE guest blog spot which will be promoted to thousands of GWCT members and non-members alike. Find out more >

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Meet 33 of the finest gunmakers in the world

Don't miss your chance to attend an exclusive evening in Knightsbridge which brings together the world's best gunmakers for an evening of fine guns, complimentary Champagne and canap├ęs.

Hosted by Guns on Pegs, the evening takes place at 6pm on Thursday 14th May at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower, Knightsbridge, London. Within this fabulous setting you'll be able to meet some of the world's most respected game gun craftsman and learn more about the guns they create.

How to book your tickets

Tickets are £75 each. Simply call the GunsOnPegs office on 0207 4911363 to secure yours today.

Gunmakers in attendance:

James Purdey & Sons   
Holland & Holland
Boss & Co.
Anderson Wheeler
E.J. Churchill
William Evans
John Rigby & Co.
Atkin, Grant & Lang
Joseph Manton London
R. Ward Gunmakers
Christian Hunter
Caesar Guerini
Boxall and Edmiston
Watson Brothers
Chapuis Armes
George Gibbs
Perugini & Visini
William Powell
Graham Mackinlay
Bill Blacker

Also in attendance:

Cad & The Dandy
Brocket Hall Foods
Hull Cartridge Company
Devonshire Wealth Management
Albion Sporting
Bettws Hall
Sweet Oak Lodge
City of London Distillery

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Scottish farmers must register on Rural Payments and Services

The Scottish Government is urging all farmers, crofters and land managers submitting Single Application Forms (SAF) to register their details online on the new Rural Payments and Services system – including those submitting their SAF on paper.

Although the deadline for Single Application Forms (SAF) has been extended to 15th June 2015, everyone must register on Rural Payments and Services by 15th May 2015 in order for their payments to be processed.

To register, click here or contact your Rural Payments and Inspections Division (RPID) area office which has computers available to use and staff on-hand to provide assistance.

Do we need predator control?

by Andrew Gilruth

At one conservation organisation’s AGM this year we heard some amazing habitat restoration success stories, complete with local bird population recovery – it was impressive. The speaker went on to say that this proves “if you build it, they will come”. In these examples he was absolutely right. It was great. The members loved it.

What do we do in the places where habitat has been restored but targeted wildlife has not recovered?

Where do we start? Any reduction in abundance is caused by losses of adults, eggs or young. So predation then? Possibly. We know predation pressure can, in some places, depress numbers, particularly of ground-dwelling species1, 2. Predation can also prevent the recovery of declined species of wildlife3.

Research has shown that predation can have impacts

Over the last 30 years, the GWCT has published over 150 papers considering predation effects. The implications for conservation are clear. In the uplands, black grouse and capercaillie ranges would contract further if predation pressure increased4 ,5. Birds such as curlew and lapwing are typically now restricted to upland areas where predators are controlled to benefit red grouse6. In the lowlands, predator pressure has been shown to limit grey partridge recovery, corvid predation to impact on thrushes, and fox predation to restrict the abundance of brown hares7, 8, 9.

Conservation success can be achieved where predators are controlled10.

Photo by Laurie Campbell
Having suitable habitat for breeding and survival is crucial for all species, but the impact of predation is generally recognised as a factor too. Predator control is now used by farmers, gamekeepers and a wide range of nature reserves11 where habitat management alone is not enough12.

The benefits of predator control are not just for game, waders and songbirds. Reducing numbers of some of the common generalist predators can benefit some rare predators. Pine martens may suffer from fox predation13. Ground-nesting harriers do well on virtually fox-free islands, e.g. the Orkney Islands, Islay, Arran and the Isle of Man, and have been found to decline on a grouse moor when fox control ended14.

So is predation control the silver bullet?

No. Demonstrating benefits in many situations is not a carte blanche for control; predator control must also be sensitive to the predators being taken. Many predators in the UK are recovering in numbers while some are at an all-time high15. But there is little doubt that the 19th Century drive to increase game abundance led to intense predator control that was responsible for the disappearance of many raptors and small carnivores from large parts of Britain16, 17. This legacy brought predator control, often wrongly described as ‘keepering’, into disrepute, driving a perception of incompatibility with conservation.

What about the 2015 corvid paper published in Ibis?

It is a helpful review of 42 corvid impact studies from around the world (it did not conduct any new corvid work). It concluded that there is evidence of corvid control improving bird nesting success (productivity), but less often having an effect on breeding abundance.

We might expect to find more evidence of improving nest success (productivity) because more studies measure this. Monitoring nesting success is much simpler than monitoring breeding density – for the latter, some species require monitoring for three years until they have reached breeding maturity.

This point is illustrated by the GWCT Upland Predation Experiment at Otterburn. It lasted eight years, but measuring improvements in breeding abundance of curlew took several years because most curlew do not reach breeding maturity until they are three years old. Measuring breeding abundance is more practical for species that remain in a local area and breed at the end of the first year.

The 2015 Ibis paper suggests that if there is evidence of predation being at least partly responsible for poor conservation status, then predator management for conservation should, as a rule of thumb, control a broad spectrum of common generalist predators, not just corvids. A point most gamekeepers would understand.

Why doesn’t it show that controlling corvids alone works?

Many reasons, some to do with the number of studies available to review and the interpretation of the results – but at a practical level, there are two important reasons:
1) If one species is controlled and leads to improved productivity, this may just provide more prey for other predators.
2) Removing one species of predator may allow others to come in or increase in abundance.
As gamekeepers have reported for years, and the evidence supports, corvid control alone does not always result in improved conservation of another species

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1. Aebischer, N.J. (2009). Gamebird science, agricultural policy and biodiversity conservation in lowland areas of the UK. In: Dickson, B., Hutton, J. & Adams, W.M. (eds) Recreational Hunting, Conservation and Rural Livelihoods - Science and Practice: 197-211. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford.
2. Sotherton, N.W., May, R., Ewald, J.A., Fletcher, K. & Newborn, D. (2009). Managing uplands for game and sporting interests. An industry perspective. In: Bonn, A., Allott, T., Hubacek, K. & Stewart, J. (eds) Drivers of Environmental Change in Uplands: 241-260. Routledge, Abingdon.
3. Smith, R. K., A. S. Pullin, G. B. Stewart, & W. J. Sutherland. (2010). Effectiveness of predator removal for enhancing bird populations. Conservation Biology, 24: 820-829.
4. Warren, P.K. & Baines, D. (2002). Dispersal, survival and causes of mortality in black grouse Tetrao tetrix in northern England. Wildlife Biology, 8: 91-97.
5. Summers, R.W., Green, R.E., Proctor, R., Dugan, D., Lambie, D., Moncrieff, R., Moss, R. & Baines, D. (2004). An experimental study of the effects of predation on the breeding productivity of capercaillie and black grouse. Journal of Applied Ecology, 41: 513-525.
6. Tapper, S.C. (2010). Waders on the Fringe. Why Nationally Scarce Waders Flourish on Grouse Moors. Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge, Hampshire.
7. Tapper, S.C., Potts, G.R. & Brockless, M.H. (1996). The effect of an experimental reduction in predation pressure on the breeding success and population density of grey partridges Perdix perdix. Journal of Applied Ecology, 33: 965-978.
8. White, P.J.C., Stoate, C., Szczur, J. & Norris, K.J. (2014). Predator reduction with habitat management can improve songbird nest success. Journal of Wildlife Management, 78: 402-412.
9. Reynolds, J.C., Stoate, C., Brockless, M.H., Aebischer, N.J. & Tapper, S.C. (2010). The consequences of predator control for brown hares (Lepus europaeus) on UK farmland. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 56: 541-549.
10. Smith, R.K., Pullin, A.S., Stewart, G.B. and Sutherland, W.J. (2010), Effectiveness of Predator Removal for Enhancing Bird Populations. Conservation Biology, 24: 820–829.
11. Gibbons D.W., Amar A., Anderson G.Q.A., Bolton M., Bradbury R.B., Eaton M.A., Evans A.D., Grant M.C., Gregory R.D., Hilton G.M., Hirons G.J.M., Hughes J., Johnstone I., Newbery P., Peach W.J., Ratcliffe N., Smith K.W., Summers R.W., Walton P. and Wilson J.D. (2007). The predation of wild birds in the UK: a review of its conservation impact and management. RSPB Research Report no 23. RSPB, Sandy.
12. Sotherton, N.W., Tapper, S.C. & Smith, A.A. (2009). Hen harriers and red grouse: economic aspects of red grouse shooting and the implications for moorland conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46: 955-960.
13. Strachan, R., Jeffries, D.J. & Chanin, P.R.F. (1996). Pine Marten survey of England and Wales. 1987-1988. JNCC, Peterborough.
14. Baines, D. & Richardson, M. (2013). Hen harriers on a Scottish grouse moor: multiple factors predict breeding density and productivity. Journal of Applied Ecology, 50: 1397-1405.
15. Bird Atlas 2007–11: The Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland (D.E. Balmer, S. Gillings, B.J. Caffrey, R.L. Swann, I.S. Downie, and R.J. Fuller, Editors). BTO Books, Thetford, UK.
16. Newton, I. (1979) Population Ecology of Raptors. T. & A. D. Poyser, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.
17. Langley, P.J.W & Yalden, D.W. (1977) The decline of the rarer carnivores in Great Britain during the nineteenth century. Mammal Review, 7: 95-116.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Pheasants bring home the wildlife: our letter to The Observer

Dear Sir

It’s probably a difficult fact for many to countenance but game management, which helps pheasants and partridges to thrive is also very good for other species that share the same habitats, (Why give this succour to the hunting and shooting lobby? - letters 5th April)

But the secret is out. The RSPB has confirmed what many, including Defra and Natural England already know, game management has brought more effective conservation to the table than probably any other conservation activity.

The 2013 State of Nature report highlighted that 60% of recorded species were in decline – but the lack of solutions is a catastrophe in the making.

To restore wildlife means we have to be bold and brave. If the very best of game management offers some of the solutions then surely it makes sense to take on board those that are proven by long-standing research to work best at triggering a revival.

Perhaps unknown to many, options such as supplementary over-winter feeding, wild bird seed mixes, woodland and many other habitat management techniques – all emanating from game shooting are now integral options in the Government’s Stewardship Schemes because they above everything else are successfully boosting wildlife populations.

Instead of castigating the RSPB, we should be celebrating the fact that this well-respected conservation charity is big enough to understand that sometimes we have to make stark choices to help our precious wildlife. With many species now threatened with extinction, the clock is ticking and we cannot afford to ignore the evidence for the sake of principle.   

Andrew Gilruth
Director of Communications
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

RSPB backs pheasant shooting – with GWCT research

by Andrew Gilruth - @Andrew Gilruth

The role shoots can play in protecting wildlife in our countryside has been warmly endorsed the RSPB. Their position points out that shoots can “provide beneficial habitat management for wildlife”, including woodland sky-lighting, planting cover crops and creating conservation headlands. This conservation potential is significant because land managed for game is ten times that of our nature reserves.

The press have picked up on the RSPB’s evidence led approach which cites Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) research on pheasants published in 2005 and our figures showing that shoots create or maintain 7,000 hectares of hedgerows and 100,000 hectares of copses.

Photo by Laurie Campbell

This published GWCT science is not new - but recognising the evidence that links shooting and conservation remains controversial for some.

The RSPB say their support for shooting has caused “a bit of a hullabaloo”. It is easy to see why. Conservation is often presented in a way that panders to people’s preconceptions - the true definition of dumbing down. The RSPB point out that people can’t make “simplistic interpretations” yet it is easy to see why.

Time and again in magazines, on radio, but especially on television, the GWCT encounter journalists who are eager to visit country estates to make enchanting natural history films about wildlife and then carefully air-brush out the gamekeeper and the fact that it was his hard work that made the film possible in the first place.

Are we too quick to dumb down conservation?

A Natural England report on the results of its farmland conservation schemes in 2009 championed the Norfolk Estate in West Sussex. It reported that “grey partridge numbers have increased by over 250% per year, corn buntings over 100% per year and skylarks 71% per year” yet it failed to mention that this was a shooting estate - the very hard work undertaken by gamekeepers was not even mentioned; nor the motivation to achieve these remarkable results.

For a number of years the RSPB ran a farming award. Each year the winner was a GWCT member that achieved amazing results, in part, motivated by running a shoot on his farm.This important link with shooting was also air-brushed out. With so many journalists, civil servants and conservationists pandering to peoples preconceptions it is no wonder that the RSPB have caused “a bit of a hullabaloo”.

A new approach to conservation is required.

The 2013 State of Nature report highlighted that 60% of recorded species were in decline – but the lack of solutions makes the report terrifying reading. Over the last few decades conservation thinking has focused on protection and prescription by those with clip boards working in offices. It has not worked well enough. New approaches will be required that tap into motivation, such as shooting, and making the most of the money and commitment that is available.

The financial investment in shooting makes a huge contribution to nature conservation in the UK – and could do more.

This money has so far protected and plants, woods and birds over a colossal area - from lowland farms and woods to upland grouse moors. The best areas for upland waders in mainland Britain is on grouse moors. On any criterion, grouse shooting provides a highly sustainable form of land use – not just a GWCT view but the high conservation value is why the RSPB continues to invest in a driven grouse moor at Langholm.

By contrast we might question the lack of managing on upland areas that are not grouse moors. In some of the National Parks, where emphasis is placed on outdoor recreation, it may be at the expense of nature conservation. In the spring grouse moors are alive with peeping waders and displaying grouse, birds that are disappearing fast from the rest of the country.

It won’t be easy to change conservation thinking – but change is overdue.

Change is never easy or smooth but that is no reason for not trying. Too often we see the public being given the impression that abundant wildlife comes about because it is protected from man and not the result of hard work.  Shooting, like farming, has its share of challenges – but these are best resolved by engaging positively with those on the ground. Shoots across the county will be delighted the RSPB are taking the same approach.

How do we judge these winners and losers?

Clearly, it is too simplistic to just tally them up. We need to judge them against a background of their abundance elsewhere and whether or not they are declining nationally. If we make this comparison, some birds stand out.

For example, willow warbler, spotted flycatcher, linnet and bullfinch are declining nationally but increased on the GWCT wild pheasant shoot at the Allerton Project farm. On grouse moors, red grouse, black grouse, lapwing and curlew, are faring better than elsewhere but are in national decline.

Meadow pipit and skylark fare less well on grouse moors, probably because the vegetation is dominated by heather rather than grass. Similarly heather burning for grouse eliminates the taller shrub like gorse, pioneer birch and pine, and therefore whinchat are less common on grouse moors.

We believe, with carefully planned management, hen harriers can thrive on areas managed for grouse.

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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Time running out to complete Shoot Benchmarking survey

The deadline for completing the Smiths Gore GWCT Shoot Benchmarking survey is fast approaching with Friday 24th April the last chance for you to submit your return.

This FREE and confidential survey is the only one of its kind and allows shoot owners to evaluate their performance and compare it to similar shoots.

Click here to complete the survey online >

Why should you take part in the survey?

David Steel, Head of Sporting at Smiths Gore:

“Our benchmarking can help in-hand, syndicated and let shoots of all sizes. Last season’s results gave shoots a clear indication of areas for improvement and refinement, including gamekeeper salaries and benefits, fixed costs, return rates, costs per bird released and prices charged per bird shot.

“Since 2009, hundreds of shoots have benefitted from taking part, and we hope that many more shoots will participate this season. Their personalised report includes benchmarks only available to participants.”

Roger Draycott, Head of Advisory Services at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust:

“Shoots take part in the survey for a number of reasons. Private shoots want to check that their costs are under control and shoots that let days out want to check how their charges compare with others. The survey provides useful information on how shoots sell days, the pricing model they use, and once costs are taken away from income, how their bottom line compares with others.

“It is important the sector can demonstrate that there is good environmental care in place on shoots so we have included questions on habitat management and wild birds, to provide a better understanding of the conservation work shoots are doing on the ground.”

All participants will also be invited to an exclusive seminar, site visit and BBQ at the GWCT’s Allerton Project farm on 3 September 2015, hosted by expert GWCT and Smiths Gore staff.

Submit your return

Click here to complete the survey online >