As rewarding as it is, putting a gamecover strategy together for shoots is not entirely straight forward. Considerations need to be made for the differing soil types across the country, the variety of areas and habitats across a single shoot, what was planted previously, various stewardship schemes and, ultimately, what the customer wants from their gamecover.
Here, we take a look at a shoot in Northamptonshire, run by Brian Rice Farms, and explain some details about the shoot, what gamecover was recommended and the range of benefits that the chosen cover continues to have.
Like many we deal with at Bright Seeds, this shoot has been run by the same family since its inception. It was set up approximately 40 years ago by Brian Rice, father of William Rice; who is the current owner. Brian Rice Farms covers an area of 1500ha in the heart of Northamptonshire and shoots predominately pheasant days; with a smaller number of partridge and ducks.
Northants sits on heavy-medium clay soil. Our advisor, Marc Bull commented that, “Clay is notorious for staying cold in the spring and retaining too much moisture. It can quickly turn from being wet and claggy to being baked solid”. This was something that had to be considered when formulating a plan for the shoot’s game cover and the farm’s stewardship mixtures.
It is down to Farm Manager – James Stevenson, Gamekeeper – Lee Banner, and our advisor – Marc Bull, to work together and come up with the best strategy year-on-year for the shoot.
This specific shoot has a range of different gamecover, from game maize to wildlife & conservation crops – an ideal case study due to this variety.
One of the most prominent cover crops on the shoot is game maize. The shoot has a combination of Flightpath and Foxxi maize, covering around 10ha. There are numerous benefits to using game maize – game birds are attracted to it, it is a great crop to ‘run birds in on’, it has excellent broad spectrum weed control, it gives good aerial cover and the right variety, such as Flightpath, can produce good feed value. The main purpose of the game maize is simply to hold the birds.
Where game maize is a straight, the majority of the remaining gamecover is made up of mixtures – and the Brian Rice Farm shoot has an array of them.
Three different wild-bird mixtures cover another 10ha, these are:
- Early Bird – This gives an early sowing window and offers broad spectrum herbicide applications.
- Broad Buster – Gives excellent broad-leaved weed (BLW) control – against weeds such as Red Shank and Fat Hen.
- Easy Grow – Provides excellent colour and BLW control.
All of the Wildbird mixtures at Bright Seeds provide excellent feed seed value that helps support farmland birds and other wildlife; this seed also helps hold game birds as it provides feed value for them too.
A further benefit of using wild-bird mixtures and game maize is annual rotation. By annually rotating the wild-bird mixtures and the game maize the shoot can control BLW and grass weeds – such as rogue millet.
The shoot also covers 5ha of the land with perennial crops. In this case Reed Canary Grass and Chicory were recommended. The perennials are used as wind breaks around the main plots. They are also used in difficult, awkward areas such as field corners.
Nectar Flower and Grass and Wildflower mixtures also cover 2ha and 10ha respectively, and the benefits of these particular mixtures are abundant. First, they provide excellent nesting habitats for both ground nesting birds and game birds, whilst also providing a food source for the diminishing number of pollinators in the UK. Additionally, they provide good brood rearing habitat. Game birds, as well as other birds, need animal protein for the first 21 days of their life – these mixtures attract the invertebrates that can be a food source for the chicks.
A final, and quite substantial, crop covering 100ha across the farm is Green Manure cover. This is an important crop because it helps maintain and improve soil structure and it prevents nutritional leaching ahead of spring crops. Nutritional leaching is the loss of water-soluble nutrients from the soil due to rain or irrigation. James works closely with Marc to select the most appropriate species in order to achieve the farms soil health goals, and to help maximise crop rotation and profitability.
Stewardship & Conservation
There are a range of stewardship funding programmes that landowners and farmers can receive financial incentives for being involved with, all of which aim to create a better environment. Brian Rice Farms has recently transitioned from Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) to Countryside Stewardship (CS) mid-tier. According to the GOV.uk website, the CS programme provides financial incentives for:
- Conserving and restoring wildlife habitats
- Flood risk management
- Woodland creation and management
- Reducing widespread water pollution from agriculture
- Keeping the character of the countryside
- Encouraging educational access
Many of the gamecover mixtures that the shoot uses meet these criteria. Wild-bird mixtures, nectar flowers and wildflowers conserve wildlife habitats by providing nesting and brood rearing habitat – whilst also providing a food source for wildlife.
The Green Manure crops help prevent water pollution from agriculture, whilst contributing to flood risk management.
One mixture that has yet to be mentioned at the shoot, of which Brian Rice Farms has 9ha, is two-year Ryegrass and Legume, which comes under stewardship scheme AB15. This effectively reduces the blackgrass weed population. Under the AB15 stewardship scheme, this is worth £522 per ha to the landowner.
James Stevenson, farm manager at Brian Rice Farms and the individual that we work closest with when selecting gamecover and conservation crops is happy with how things are going, he said,
“The team at Bright Seeds, particularly our advisor – Marc Bull – couldn’t have been more helpful! The vast knowledge and expertise shown by all has ensured that we have good cover, are hitting our conservation targets and have been running good shooting days”.