Q.

What are the key elements of the Lowground Technical Services (LTS)?

A.

The idea of Lowground Technical Services is that we give clients advice on how to develop and enhance their shoot. We make specific reference to improving the shooting and rearing side of the operation, as well as getting the best out of the wild bird population and benefiting the environment at the same time.

Rather than just offering a one-off visit where we come out and then write a report on how to improve the shoot, we extend the service to provide ongoing guidance and support to make sure our recommendations are implemented to best effect. If shoots have stock at the end of the season, the Lowground Technical Services wants to help them make the most of it. We also want to help supplement the bag with wild birds by increasing populations in outlying areas.

Q.

Ongoing practical advice and support is integral to Lowground Technical Services; does that mean each shoot will have its own advisor?

A.

This is not just a one-off visit. Instead we provide ongoing support to ensure our advice is seen through. It would be easy for us to visit the shoot, write up a report, and then expect the shoot to implement the findings to the letter to achieve the objectives. An advisor might visit the shoot for a day initially and then follow this up with the occasional half day here and there at a subsidised cost to keep things on track. Attending a shoot day has great value because it reveals how drives work, so this could be a part of the Lowground Technical Services offering if the shoot wishes.

Improving brood-rearing habitat and making the most of wild stock are two key elements of Lowground Technical Services (LTS).

Q.

What kind of tailored support do you anticipate you will be able to offer shoot owners, farm managers and gamekeepers?

A.

Initially, we would visit the shoot to assess the form on the ground. After that we would write up a report illustrating our findings and then offer some recommendations. Were we to suggest, for example, a programme of thinning rides, migration or opening glades, we would ensure that this work was carried out in the right place, giving high quality advice on marking up woodland or planting. If the shoot was interested in wild bird productivity (specifically brood-rearing habitat), we would spend time discussing the location of the brood rearing habitats and even monitor them using tools such as sweep nets. Actions taken after an advisor’s visit can be monitored via an ongoing assessment. We are also able to monitor songbird abundance, so if a shoot has entered Environmental Stewardship we can quantify the effects of that.

Q.

What kind of GWCT research will you be sharing with shoots to help them increase the survival and breeding successes of wild and released game?

A.

We’re able to share a huge amount of research with shoots, especially on grey partridge. Recent research into winter losses of the species have discovered that a significant number disappear in spring due to raptors such as sparrowhawks. That ongoing research would appear to identify the need for spring cover. For example, second-year kale or maize growing through at the end of the shooting season could provide vital cover for breeding pairs. Some of our research has been in the public domain for decades, other ongoing projects from the likes of Dr Roger Draycott on the effects of disease on wild productivity of pheasants will be of vital importance over the next few years, and this is the kind of research Lowground Technical Services will be able to draw on.

Q.

What are the most common obstacles stopping shoots optimising their summer stock? It must be more than just vermin control and man-hours?

A.

It depends on the individual shoot in question. We’re there to develop shoots that are still building up their expertise. They might already be culling foxes but we would seek to discover when they’re doing this and where. If they are culling foxes on stubble we might ask them to consider doing this earlier in the year and using methods such as snares when the wheat is up – a method that may well greatly increase productivity.

Simple strategies like starting the fox cull earlier in the year can help your shoot management.

Many shoots tend not to feed their stock that much after the end of the season, but GWCT research has shown that if keepers continue feeding, pheasants and partridge hens will be in better condition and more able to brood the eggs and look after the chicks. A hen bird that has supplementary feeding through until May could produce – weather depending – twice as many chicks than a hen that hasn’t.

Q.

How much will this service cost the shoot?

A.

There’s a standard fee of £495 + VAT for a half-day visit, where there will be an element of fact-finding. Thereafter costs will be reduced in recognition of the ongoing programme – for example, when we’re providing support on the placement or management of game crops, counting grey partridge or predator control.

Q.

Lowground Technical Services is billed as being a crossover between science and advice – are you anticipating that either one of these will have a larger role to play?

A.

We will provide advice backed by science. We offer informed, targeted advice that isn’t based on hunches, but based on evidence. One of the strengths of the GWCT is that our scientific research identifies what the problems are, before investigating how to overcome them in a practical way. As far as the client is concerned, we don’t want to baffle them with unnecessary science, although science is part of the answer.

For more information on the GWCT’s Lowground Technical Services (LTS) contact Dr Roger Draycott on 01440 821325.

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