The Shooting Times Woodcock Club — for those who record a right- and-left — hosted its 33rd annual dinner at Crowcombe Court on 22 April 2017. Patrick Galbraith reports.
I turned up a little late to the 33rd Shooting Times Woodcock Club dinner on 22 April. But the road that winds its way over the Quantocks to Crowcombe Court in Somerset is not the sort of place that someone with even the vaguest appreciation of landscapes could bear to rush. So I stopped to watch the pipits flitting across the hills where Coleridge walked with Wordsworth, and tried to imagine how it might look in December, a pack of staghounds flying across the frosty ground.
Almost 100 people were gathered in the baroque hallway of David and Kate Kenyon’s magnificent 18th century home when I arrived. Some were sipping chilled Pommery champagne, others enjoyed the eponymous Woodcock Club ale from the Pembrokeshire Brewery.
Before dinner, David gave a brief history of the house that they had generously provided as a venue for the evening. Dinner was superb; getting venison right at all can be tricky; getting it right for 100 is a triumph.
Our first speaker of the evening was Chris Heward, a wetlands research assistant at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust who is currently doing a PhD in woodcock breeding ecology. Chris gave us a preview of an upcoming paper that uses the results of a national woodcock survey to investigate declines in Britain’s resident birds. He went on to provide details of a new tracking study employing GPS tags to record the movement of resident woodcock in the breeding season.
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While Chris admitted he had never actually fired at a woodcock, he did recall catching two of the marvellous birds in one net during counting. A most unorthodox right-and-left but remarkably skilled nonetheless.
After pudding, it was a real pleasure to introduce Liam Stokes, head of shooting at the Countryside Alliance, and a man who is quickly establishing himself as one of the most dynamic and knowledgeable ambassadors for our sport. Liam told some amusing stories from his days as a lecturer in gamekeepering and reflected more seriously on the complexity of the countryside in the face of simple arguments peddled by those who are opposed to the traditions, hobbies and occupations of many of those who live there.
After plates were cleared, whisky donated by Barker-Moss wood carving was poured and we launched into the auction, which was a fast and furious affair as people bid for lots including pigeon shooting with Tom Payne and ferreting with Simon Whitehead.
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I was delighted to be the winning bidder on the latter and I am even more delighted to report that the whole event made £5,000 for woodcock conservation.
“A bloody marvellous evening and a bloody marvellous house,” proclaimed the last guest to leave, in a thick Gloucestershire accent. Right on both accounts, I thought, as I wandered up to bed.