How did you come to run the Kern Farm shoot and what is its history?
The Kern Farm Shoot has replaced what was originally known as the Nunwell Shoot, one of the oldest shoots on the Island. All the syndicate members from Nunwell have joined the new shoot at Kern so continuity has been maintained. I purchased Kern Farm in January 2009 and ran a very small shoot with a part time keeper in the 2009/10 season to see what potential the land might have. There had been game shooting over Kern in the past but mostly of a rough shoot nature.
Superb action on the Bottoms drive where other guns are placed on the quarry floor.
And I always thought the undulating land seemed to lend itself to something more significant. With the demise of the syndicate at Nunwell, due to problems beyond our control, it became apparent a quick solution was necessary to maintain the unique character of a shoot that had been built over many years. With the backing of the members a number of us set out to speak with local landowners adjacent to Kern and explore the possibility of expanding the shoot to make it a suitable, or better, replacement for what had gone before. To our surprise we found our requests met with very positive responses and in a relatively short period of time had the makings of something special.
What acreage is the shoot, how many different drives are there and how many days a season is it shot?
The shoot now covers nearly 900 acres, and will possibly increase by a further 300 acres next year. We currently have 14 drives and will shoot 15 days this season.
What’s the signature drive and what makes it special?
This rather depends on who you are asking and, as the shoot is so new, with new drives coming into play as the season progresses, it is difficult to answer. At the moment however the choice might be between Big Down and Bottoms. The first, as the name suggests, involves flushing birds from the very top of the downland on Kern Farm back towards pens situated in woods below. The entire drive takes place in a gently curving bowl with spectacular views towards the south side of the island.
The team members clearly enjoying their transport across the shoot’s 900 acres.
As the season has progressed the birds have flown higher and higher and would now rival those on many better known and more established estates. Bottoms, which is certainly a name to conjure with, takes place in a working sandpit and consists of pheasant and partridge being driven over the guns standing, in some cases, 150 ft below the cliff edge. Again, as the birds have become stronger and wilder the drive proves ever more challenging.
What strains of pheasant do you have?
This year our day olds came from a breeder in France and are a mixture of Chinese Ringnecks and some Manchurian Crosses. We intend to begin breeding our own birds next year, supplemented by some imported stock.
What sort of cover crops do you use?
The soil analysis and cover crop selection was handled by Tim Furbank at Oakbank Game & Conservation Ltd. On Kern Farm itself, which is under an ELS stewardship agreement, we have used wild bird seed and pollen and nectar mixes. The remainder of the cover crops include spring triticale, linseed, white millet, maize and Oakbank’s game mix.
Is there any woodland management work being done?
There are two historical schemes on Kern Farm, a woodland grant scheme and a jigsaw scheme which seeks to link blocks of ancient woodland, thus providing a better habitat for the red squirrel.
Who is the headkeeper?
Ben Matthews is the headkeeper. Born on the island, Ben learnt his keeping skills from his father Geoff who has been a keeper on the island all his life. Having worked on many island shoots, Geoff has just retired from his last post at Nunwell where he worked for 15 years and was assisted by his son. The post at Kern is Ben’s first as headkeeper and being to all intents and purposes a new shoot, represents an enormous challenge. The syndicate have ambitious plans for the shoot all of which are discussed and planned with Ben acting as a key member of the steering group. His dedication has enabled us to produce a viable shoot within its first year with tremendous potential and a growing reputation.
Who looks after the catering and what’s the typical format for the day?
The catering arrangements are all handled in house principally by Les Kirkby (son in law of the shoot captain Will Caws) and my girlfriend Georgina. On average we cater for 35 people per day including elevenses. Guns, beaters and pickers all having the same dishes. Lunch is considered by many to be almost the most important event of the day.
Are there any specific problems with running a shoot on the Isle of Wight?
Not that we are aware of other than bringing guns and cartridges over on the car ferries which can involve some rather tedious form filling.
Where do your beaters and pickers-up come from?
The majority of our beaters and pickers are local regulars and came with us from the previous shoot at Nunwell. Our most loyal beater has been with the syndicate for over 35 years, although his year bought about a change of scenery.
Does game shooting on the Isle of Wight offer something you can’t get elsewhere?
If it does it is probably the heightened feeling of escapism that can be experienced when crossing the Solent. It is also fair to say the Island is often mistakenly thought to be rather flat. While this might be true for some of the more densely populated areas around the coast it certainly does not apply inland where the chalk downland offers some of the best game shooting in the south of England.
It was pheasant curry day when this picture was taken, hence the lager.
What are the plans for next season and beyond and how much does it cost to shoot here?
We have plans for further expansion next season which should see a further four to five additional drives and with these we will add an additional two guns to the syndicate and we hope to host a ladies day. The current cost for a day’s game shooting is £400 and this has been maintained from the previous syndicate at Nunwell. There might be a small increase next season to reflect the increased number and quality of the birds.