Case Study - An Interview with a Gamekeeper

Case Study - An Interview with a Gamekeeper

To give a deeper insight into a gamekeeper’s thinking behind cover crops, Arthur Barraclough visited Eddie Collins - keeper on a 600 acre Hampshire estate - to discuss how he makes the most of his game crops.


What are your main cover crop choices on the shoot?

When I started here seven years ago, we were only growing maize. Now, we have gradually reduced the maize area and this year have grown roughly 70% wild-bird mix, 20% maize and 10% perennial chicory mixes.

We use Top Gun Maize, Wildflower Pheasant & Finch, and we have Autumn Promise under-sown with chicory. In the past we have also used Broad Buster to help us control some broad-leaf weed issues on some plots.


Why did you choose this range of crops?

Maize is good for partridges. All of our partridge drives have at least some maize crops. It gives good cover from avian predators, produces good feed value for game and we can keep it clean with herbicides. Partridges like a clean, weed-free area under the maize.

We’ve shifted over to more wild-bird mixes simply to improve the biodiversity on the estate, and we also use them as wind-breaks around maize plots. We have a lot of holding crops too, and I’ve found bird mixtures work well for this, especially when the kale does well, and it has the added benefit of being able to be left for a second year. We do use some chicory too as we have very little woodland, so a lot of areas are exposed. Chicory is ideal in thin strips next to hedges to warm the place up.


Is there anything you are keen to avoid crop-wise?

We do grow chicory as I’ve said, but not too much! We have had big blocks in the past, but it gets too thick, and then runs out of steam after five years.

As mentioned, we now use it only in thin strips next to hedges, which works well. We discussed artichokes as an option for long-term cover but decided against it as it can be hard to get rid of and I think there are better options for game cover. Rats are a problem when we grow a lot of maize, so that was another reason to move away from growing all maize.


Autumn Promise, under-sown with Chicory, next to a strip of Top Gun Maize.

Autumn Promise, under-sown with Chicory, next to a strip of Top Gun Maize.

How does wildlife benefit from your crop choices?

The wild-bird mixes in particular offer good food and cover. The Wildflower Pheasant & Finch we have used this year has been alive with insects all summer and you can see loads of seed in there too ready for the winter.

Sunflowers and Phacelia, which were at their prime in August, also attracted lots of bees. And farmland birds have just started to show an interest too – we see corn buntings, yellow-hammers, grey partridge, blue tits and flocks of swallows on a regular basis.

However, it’s not just crops. We also supplementary feed ground mixes right through autumn and winter which attracts loads of farmland birds too.


Are you involved in any Stewardship Schemes?

Yes, we have just entered into mid-tier, with nearly half the estate going into stewardship cropping. The owner is very keen to push conservation further on the estate, so this step should help considerably with that.

We will see how larger blocks of conservation crops impact on the shoot, but I have a good relationship with the farm, so I’m sure we can make it work. Luckily by moving towards more mixtures over the last few years, we are in a good place to start. This also means we have already worked out the best ways to get these mixes established on our ground, which is a major benefit.


Have you found it beneficial to work with Bright Seeds when planning your cover?

Yes, it’s been extremely helpful. When it was all maize here, it was fairly simple.

You and your team have helped along the way with mixture suggestions and management tips. I have seen chicory grown well on other estates, and after you explained that it would suit our chalk ground well, that encouraged me to put some in. This has kept the farm happy, as there is less crop to establish every year. The Wildflower Pheasant and Finch has been a real winner too.

 

Please feel free to contact the office for any advice on this year, or next year’s game crops.

Phacelia in the Wildflower Pheasant & Finch has been a big success. Millet all seeding up well too.

Phacelia in the Wildflower Pheasant & Finch has been a big success. Millet all seeding up well too.


29th September 2021

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