When it comes to crop damage, we tend to think of the usual suspects. Top of the list are usually woodpigeon, rabbits or maybe even deer. However, as I recently discovered, there is another pest out there.

As a pigeon shooter, late spring can be a bit of a lean time if you do not have peas on your ground. Spring sowing is over and rape is in full flower. It gets increasingly hard to find anything that the birds are feeding on, though I have always had a two or three-week window when bare patches in the rape gave me an opportunity to shoot reasonable bags. These patches may be due to poor germination, wet areas, or where the pigeon made serious inroads into corners.

A new culprit for crop eating

This year, however, these patches have been hard to find, as last autumn the rape was drilled in ideal conditions and grew at a phenomenal rate ? some crops were a foot high by Christmas. Combined with the mild winter and the ready availability of other food, pigeon didn?t go for the rape crops in the usual way. Subsequently my shooting opportunities have suffered.

One thing that has produced the odd small bag of pigeon has been patches eaten off not by pigeon or rabbits but by game, and partridges in particular. On one estate where I shoot, this damage is evident now that the covercrops have gone and the rape is in flower. Large areas have been eaten right off by large numbers of partridges released just as the rape was coming through last autumn. They love to walk down the rows picking off the juicy little shoots when they are most vulnerable, killing the plant.

An expensive bit of damage

Driving round in search of pigeon,I realised the extent of the problem, one that shooting tenants and farm managers are only too aware of. On estates where the shooting is let the losses are passed directly on to the tenant and can be quite substantial. The initial cost may only be the seed and drilling, but the loss of approximately one-and-a-half tons of rape per acre can cost as much as £500 per acre. This is a significant amount to add to any shoot budget, and looking at some of the patches alongside cover strips on this shoot the damaged area can be larger than the strip itself.

It seems that charging shooting tenants for damage caused by game is not unusual, but if not handled delicately, it can create some conflict between parties, particularly if the land is managed by an outside agency or trust that may have no more interest in shooting than the income it produces. When this is the case, an agreement has to be reached whereby both parties can agree on the level of damage and an amount of compensation.

This can sometimes be difficult to determine, but I have heard of one estate that fences small blocks next to gamecover so that the difference can be clearly seen and the extent of the damage established.

This can, of course, present the shooting tenant with an unexpected bill that has to go into the shoot accounts. One tenant of a large commercial shoot in the Midlands told me that a bill for just short of £10,000 was submitted for payment last season. As roving Guns, friends and I take days on various shoots. We will always be looking for a fair deal on the price per bird. We tend to think that all commercial shoots are making a fortune, but we don?t always see the hidden costs. Now I will bear that in mind when booking for the coming season.