Thursday, 28 May 2015

GWCT dates for your diary in June

As we head into summer we’ve got a packed diary of events here at the GWCT.

We begin on Friday 5th June with a charity clay pigeon shoot hosted jointly with ABF Soldiers’ Charity at Warter Estate in East Yorkshire. Up to 30 teams of guns will compete for a range of valuable prizes during this two-day event and all proceeds will be shared jointly by the two charities.

Also taking place on the 5th is our annual Essex clay pigeon shoot, held by kind permission of Andrew Tetlow at Debden's Hidden Valley at Blue Fields, Debden.

Meanwhile in Warwickshire, and also on 5th June we will be organising a simulated game day at the Foxcote Estate, Ilmington. The day will consist of 5 x 80 bird flushes with 400 clays per team of four.

Now in its tenth year, Open Farm Sunday takes place across Britain on 7th June. We'll be opening our doors to the public at our Allerton Project farm in Loddington, Leicester for what promises to be a wonderful day out for all the family.

Up in Scotland on Thursday 11th June we’ve arranged a very special evening walk at Kinnordy Estate, Angus. An informative guided tour around the grounds will be concluded with a fantastic barbecue back at the estate.

By way of contrast our Somerset committee have organised a river walk along a beautiful stretch of the River Barle on Tuesday 23rd June. Running through Exmoor, the guided walk is just upstream from the world famous Tarr Steps and the evening will finish with dinner at the Tarr Farm Restaurant.

Over in the Cotswolds on the 23rd our Gloucestershire committee are inviting those interested in grey partridge recovery to a farm walk at Far Hill Farm, current holder of the Cotswold Grey Partridge Trophy. The evening will be rounded off with a barbecue and drinks.

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Cover crop news - Summer 2015

It’s been a busy few months at Loddington as James Watchorn, Phil Jarvis and Richard Barnes have been planning, preparing and planting the spring-sown habitat crops. Having reviewed the performance of the crops through autumn and winter, it was agreed that the crops had achieved the desired results; the shooting season had been a great success, with significant progress seen from the increased area and diversity of cover crops, while farmland birds benefited from the extensive seed supply across the farm.

As we reviewed the first three years of the GWCT and Kings partnership, all agreed that good results
have been achieved in the demonstration and delivery of best practice for integrated game and wildlife management. Our focus is now on creating the diverse range of cover needed to meet the educational needs of a farm that received over 3,000 visitors in 2014, while also meeting Environmental Stewardship obligations and being at the forefront of habitat management.

We’re looking forward to the autumn period as Richard Barnes and Roger Draycott have set up a fascinating trial programme. It will focus on a range of brood-rearing mixtures that have been designed to meet the needs of farmland bird broods in the spring and early summer while coping with some of Loddington’s finest heavy clay soils.

From this work, we’ll look to develop further key components that can establish well in September, ready to deliver a mixed but open canopy and a diverse, insect-rich food source in May and June 2016. Monitoring will be essential to this work and will allow others to learn about the most effective techniques in this vital area for wild game management.

Kings will also be supporting the development and understanding of how green cover crops can benefit the farm, in terms of both agronomy and habitat. Interest in green cover prior to spring-sown arable crops has risen rapidly and the benefits to the rotation and water quality have been proven, but there is still plenty to learn about the benefits they can bring to the wider farmland environment. We look forward to sharing the results.

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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Providing the ideal habitat for bumblebees

By John Holland

Bumblebees are declining across Europe and some species have become extinct in recent decades, whilst the range occupied by others is declining.

Agri-environment schemes have offered the opportunity to create the flower-rich habitats that they desperately need on farmland. There is plenty of evidence to show that areas planted with good bumblebee plants are utilised for the gathering of nectar and pollen, but until now there has been little evidence that this helps increase the size of bumblebee populations on farms providing such resources.

One way to measure a population increase is to measure nest density, and this can be achieved using a molecular technique because all the workers in a nest share the same genes and are distinct from other nests. A recent study, supported by the Trust, compared total bumblebee abundance and the nest density of four common species on arable farms with and without flower-rich habitats. The abundance of bumblebees along transect walks was higher on farms with flower-rich habitats compared to without.

The density of bumblebee nests was almost twice as high on farms with flower-rich habitats and three times greater for Bombus hortorum, also known as the garden bumblebee.

The provision of flower-rich habitats did not, however, increase the overall diversity of wild bees, of which 104 species were found in total, almost half those that occur in southern England, highlighting the importance of farmland for wild bees. However, it wasn’t all good news, as the rare species were seldom found. Looking at which flowering plants were visited revealed that bees visited 124 plant species. Just over half of bumblebee nectar visits were to black knapweed, with twenty percent of pollen visits to bird’s-foot trefoil.

The other popular forage plants for bumblebees were clovers, spear thistle, hedge woundwort, lesser burdock, white dead-nettle and wild teasel. For other wild bees, such as the solitary bees, black knapweed was also the most popular, but flowers with more open structures were also used such as hogweed, catsear, ox-eye daisy, scentless mayweed, smooth hawksbeard, red bartsia and fleabane.

Many of these species are not included in commercial wildflower mixes, which shows the importance of protecting the hedge and woodland edge, where they naturally occur, from fertiliser and herbicide drift, which damages the plant community.

To benefit the rarer bumblebees and other wild bees that typically only forage over short distances (less than 200m) it is important to provide flower-rich habitats evenly across the farm and, for mining bees, patches of bare ground for nesting.

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Thursday, 21 May 2015

New issue of Gamewise magazine previewed

The summer issue of our Gamewise magazine has gone to print and will be arriving with our members in early June.

Here's a brief outline of what's inside:

Scottish special - Scottish Game Fair
preview, policy, education, news and events

The second Big Farmland Bird Count engaged even more farmers than we’d hoped for

The national black grouse lek survey gives hope, but there is still work to be done

Understanding the impact of flower-rich habitats on the size of bumblebee populations

Who is eating the grain and what can be done to control it?

Autumn counts show positive steps for the Partridge Count Scheme

The MorFish project shows the importance of international co-operation

All the latest from our Woodcock Watch team

The role of pointing dogs in the Uplands Expert Advice

There may be more on your farm than you expect

George Eaton explains about the effort that went into Rectory Farm winning the 2014 Purdey Gold award

The effect of environmental conditions on salmonids

Expert advice for June to October and all the latest courses

Beetle bank, the latest news on rodenticides and a product review Conservation Features

Understanding the latest changes to agri-environment schemes

Beccy Speight, chief executive of Woodland Trust, gives her opinion

A round-up of events around the UK

Plan your summer events

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5 reasons to visit our stand at the CLA Game Fair

It may be a few weeks until the CLA Game Fair gets underway in Yorkshire but we've been busy planning for our stand. Read on to find out why you should pay us a visit.

Andrew Hoodless presenting our latest woodcock findings at last year's fair

1. Learn with live pheasant chicks

Young pheasant poults will help demonstrate the results of a fascinating study in to whether simple techniques introduced in the early stages of a reared pheasant’s life help it survive better once released and this has achieved some remarkable results.

2. Discover the latest Woodcock Watch findings

We'll be reporting the latest findings from our satellite tagging project, which is now following the hazardous migration journeys of more than 56 tagged birds as they fly back to their breeding grounds in Siberia and beyond.

3. Enjoy the comfort of our members' area and bar with FREE wi-fi

Our welcoming members’ area will definitely be the place to relax with friends and guests. You'll be able to enjoy a selection of delicious food from our new caterers and a well-stocked bar serving a full selection of soft and alcoholic drinks including local draught ale and lager. We will also be providing FREE wi-fi on our stand.

FREE VOUCHER - Get £2 off a full English breakfast

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Enjoy great food and drink plus FREE wi-fi

4. Find out about the latest cover crop developments

We're delighted that Bright Seeds will be displaying an extensive range of fully-grown crops on the stand enabling people to catch up on the latest developments in cover crops and wildlife bird seed mixes.

5. Meet the next generation of scientists and conservationists

Sparsholt College from Hampshire will be demonstrating how they use our science and research in education through their courses and careers advice.

UPDATED 29th June - click here to read our latest CLA Game Fair news and discover more excellent reasons to visit our stand.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Sir Ian Botham joins the English hen harrier debate

Image by Laurie Campbell
by Andrew Gilruth 

Following RSPB reports that hen harrier nests have been abandoned in Lancashire, Sir Ian Botham is reported to be offering a £10,000 reward to anyone prepared to rescue abandoned eggs and release them back into the wild.

Clearly people monitoring harrier nests would have had to act before the eggs cooled so it’s too late to do anything for the clutches abandoned a few weeks ago.

But could it work in future?

Have chicks been reared in captivity before?
Yes. In 1973-77 in North America, conservationists managed to produce more than 300 peregrines from eggs1. By 1979 more than 30 species of raptor, from falcons to large vultures, had been raised in captivity. Today bird conservation programmes are increasingly focused around captive propagation and release for supplementing dwindling populations2.

Does this extend to collecting eggs from wild birds?
Yes. This has been undertaken for several species around the world. In 1994 French (love it, blame the French) conservationists3 started collecting Montagu’s harrier eggs from nests located in arable fields just before harvest. The details, which were published in 2000, strongly suggest there are no grounds for concern over behavioural issues after the fledged chicks were released back into the wild.

Could this work be undertaken while investigations continue into missing adults?
Yes. It’s hard to think of a reason why it could not be undertaken alongside any ongoing criminal investigation by the police.

Surely birds’ eggs are protected?
Yes. This type of conservation activity would have to be authorised by Natural England. They would carefully review the facts before issuing a licence. Under the EU Birds Directive they can grant permission for intervention on conservation grounds. Such a licence would need to be granted in advance of the harrier nesting season.

Could the eggs be moved fast enough?
This would need careful planning. Remote cameras continually monitor each nest so it should be possible to asses when a male is late retuning to the nest. As soon as the female leaves the nest observers could move quickly, with portable incubator boxes and switch the eggs with ‘dummies’. If the adults were to return the real eggs could be replaced. Either way the eggs are not lost.

Should there have been such a contingency plan ready?
Yes. One report4 suggests 70% of hen harrier nesting attempts failed on grouse moors due to adults going missing. Having a contingency plan in place would ensure the eggs hatch and the progeny are returned to the wild. With the hen harrier population so low, it appears odd to repeatedly allow clutches of 5-8 eggs to fail.

What next?
Whilst those on the ground continue their investigation into the missing birds, perhaps it is also time to start planning conservation contingencies before any more nests are abandoned.

All the remaining eggs have a chance – we should prepare contingencies now. 


1. Population Ecology of Raptors, Ian Newton 1970
2. Wiemeyer 1981, Meyers & Miller 1992, Cade & Temple 1995
3. Amar et al 2000
4. A Future for the Hen Harrier in England, Natural England 2008

FREE Hen Harrier Recovery Plan guide

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✓ essential hen harrier facts
✓ details of the hen harrier recovery plan
✓ summary of the issues and arguments surrounding a proposed ban on driven grouse shooting
✓ key figures and scientific findings

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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Why have three hen harriers disappeared?

Three male hen harriers have vanished in Lancashire.

Photo by Laurie Campbell
Natural England and the RSPB have reported that three male hen harriers have gone missing from Bowland in Lancashire. This represents a major setback for this year’s breeding season in England, where only four breeding attempts were initiated in total in 2014.

Why have three hen harriers disappeared?

Female hen harriers have an average survival rate of 78% a year. The survival rate of male harriers is likely to be very similar, so the probability of three of them disappearing in a short period of time, in one place, by chance, is small. When three male hen harriers were reported to have disappeared from active nests in the Forest of Bowland, alarm bells started ringing.

It is understood that the missing birds were not fitted with satellite tracking devices, so ground searches within the foraging distance of each nest may take time. Without post-mortem results or field signs, exactly what happened will remain speculation.

A juvenile male appeared at one nest almost immediately and was accepted by the female. The other two females have so far remained single, and have abandoned their current nesting attempt.

What happens next?

Locally, with the full involvement of all those on the ground, the police need to establish what has happened to these missing birds.

Three birds vanishing has highlighted the importance of implementing a full recovery plan for hen harriers in England.

NEW Read our blog post from 19th May: Sir Ian Botham joins the English hen harrier debate

FREE Hen Harrier Recovery Plan guide

Download your FREE guide to the hen harrier & grouse shooting issue >

What's inside your FREE guide

✓ essential hen harrier facts
✓ details of the hen harrier recovery plan
✓ summary of the issues and arguments surrounding a proposed ban on driven grouse shooting
✓ key figures and scientific findings

Download your FREE guide >

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Race to save Ratty: our letter in The Times

Dear Sir,

Although habitat loss accounts in part for the decline of our native water voles, predation by mink - a non-native invader - trumps habitat (May 11). Even where habitat is good, water vole populations can make a good recovery only when mink are absent. Predator control is unpalatable to many, but systematic mink control is vital if we are to save "Ratty" from extinction in Britain.

Mink control became a convincing option for conservationists after the invention, by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, of the "mink raft". This uses clay and sand to record the footprints of mink (and thus is an ideal place to set traps). Between 2002 and 2010 we showed that with effective use of rafts to control mink we could re-establish water voles where they had been lost. Monitoring is a vital part of conservation but we need to be careful that we don't just monitor water voles into extinction, without taking the action that is needed.

Dr Jonathan Reynolds
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

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Wednesday, 6 May 2015

3 spectacular shoot day prizes up for grabs

How would you like to experience some fantastic shooting in beautiful surroundings?

We're offering this and much more beside with three outstanding shoot raffles currently running on our website. Details of each raffle are below and all proceeds from ticket sales will help support our vital work.

Grand Grouse Draw

A very special opportunity to win the ultimate sporting challenge – a thrilling day’s driven grouse shooting for eight guns at Horseupcleugh grouse moor.

£2 per ticket – sold in books of 20.

Click here for more information >

Somerset Draw for Four

Don't miss your chance to host a team of eight guns on four superior drives in West Somerset including the Triscome, Cothelstone and Harwood Shoots. Accommodation, dinner and breakfast will be provided at Crowcombe Court.

£20 per ticket.

Click here for more information >

The Four Grouse Moors

A unique opportunity for eight guns to shoot four drives on the most famous Peak District grouse moors - Snailsden, Broomhead, Bradfield and Moscar. The prize includes two nights dinner bed and breakfast at the Wind in the Willows, Glossop.

£200 per ticket - limited to just 250 tickets.

Click here for more information >