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Right place in the sky

A beautiful estate, two worthy charities, and Guns who dust the clays with calculated determination make for a perfect day.

The Essex area GWCT held its annual fundraising charity clay shoot in the beautiful grounds of Audley End House on 7 June, with the kind permission of the Newman family. I don’t think there could be a prettier spot to hold such an event, with the house and gardens as the backdrop and panoramic views over Saffron Walden. Even the weather on the day was perfect. 

There were seven stands set out, each mimicking a different quarry species for a simulated flush. The four-person teams then had to pitch their wits against the course setter and see if their teamwork could match the challenge presented. There was also a pool shoot of five pairs, for anybody keen enough to be humbled by the extremely difficult second bird. Plenty missed the fast and arcing long crosser from the right, but the £10 entrance fee for the privilege went to a good cause. 

The first four stands were set in Ring Park below the marquee and Temple of Victory monument, which nestles among the trees up on the top of the hill. The teams all had a specified stand to start on to help the flow of shooters around the course. If they were lucky, they would get one of the gentler ones — such as the flighting ducks or driven partridges — to start on. Less lucky, they may have had to begin on the extreme pheasants or Argentine doves. That would be a baptism of fire but also fantastic fun. 


Sixty-one teams entered this year, a record number for the annual clay day. The start time had to be brought forward to make sure everybody had finished their rounds in time for lunch in the marquee, set for 260 guests in total. I decided to walk to the furthest stand first to see how extreme the extreme pheasants were. The stand was well named — the first team I watched were having the predicted baptism of fire and the first 15 or so clays passed overhead unscathed. 

The clays were being launched from a 20m cherry picker on top of the hill about 40m ahead. By the time they crossed the Gun line, I estimated they were roughly 30m above and still flying at a good pace. 

The early misses weren’t unusual, but the Guns seemed to get their eyes in after the shock of the first few targets. They were always smiling after the event, though, and the 21g Eley Select cartridges, which were included in the price of the shoot day, were breaking the clays cleanly if placed in the right space in the sky. 

Back up the hill from the extreme pheasants was the bolting rabbit stand. Rabbit clays are always great fun and sometimes challenging for game shooters. The popular wisdom is that they look faster than they are, but these rabbits were motoring. It was on this stand that I bumped into Geoff Garrod and what can best be described as the home team. Geoff keepers this side of the estate and on his team were the Newmans’ two sons, Crispin and Jeremy, and the estate’s land agent Tom White. They were dgoing well and Geoff was handing out great advice to the team for each stand. 

Geoff introduced me to Mark Latchford, chairman of Essex GWCT, who was overseeing the day with Ed Rout, also from the GWCT. Mark is a gamekeeper and he runs the Littlebury Shoot, which is also on the estate’s land. “This is one of my favourite days of the year on the shooting and social aspect,” he said. “And this is one of the most beautiful venues in Essex.” 

Mark emphasised that having close links with the other shooting organisations is vital. BASC was represented at the event and there are close links with the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation via Geoff. “We’re all in it together,” Mark added. 

GWCT does the science, BASC does the politics and the NGO helps the working man in the field. Together we are stronger.” 

I watched Mark and his team shoot the driven partridge stand. As ever, each clay on its own wasn’t particularly difficult. It was the number of clays in the air, and making sure the team has a plan was the hard part. As the saying goes, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”. They shot very well but two or three targets did pass the line when everyone’s gun was empty. 

Stalled in the air 

As someone who enjoys a bit of decoying, I really wanted to watch the pigeon stand being shot. Straw bales had been set out so the Guns could shoot from a seated position. That makes the shooting far harder for a start and, combined with some tricky clays, this was a great challenge for the teams. Most of the targets were pretty straightforward, but the low pair from the right were hard to see against the distant tree line. By the time the Guns spotted them, they had almost stalled in the air and were dropping into the long grass. 

I’m going to hazard a guess that most misses were above and in front on this pair. The main aim of the event was to garner money for more research by the GWCT and the target was to raise £30,000, of which 10% was going to the Ukraine ambulance charity run by Alex Turnbull. 

“We’re absolutely delighted that, in conjunction with the GWCT, 10% of today’s proceeds will be used to finance very directly, in this case, pickup trucks,” said Alex. “We took out ambulances last year to Ukraine and they are absolutely desperate for mechanical help.” 

The trucks will be loaded with medical supplies and driven to Lviv, where the main hospital is based. The vehicles will be used to evacuate wounded soldiers from the battlefield to access medical support. Many of the medical supplies have come from the dismantled Nightingale hospitals from the Covid pandemic and I can’t think of a better use for them. 


Having seen shooting on all of the stands and the pool shoot, I walked back up the hill to watch the final teams finish their rounds from afar. Audley End House looked as beautiful as ever and the crackle of gunfire started to abate. The marquee was beginning to fill with hungry guests. 

After everybody had eaten, it was time for prizes followed by an auction. There were some very creditable scores and a few managed to break the 400 out of 500 mark, but one team was head and shoulders above the rest. The Pheasant Pluckers shot 476 of the clays launched over their guns, which was a fantastic result. The pool shoot was won with a nine out of 10 by Paddy Coll on his third effort and the home team won a prize for the highest score on the flighting duck stand. 

“The targets have been very shootable, they’ve come at a good pace and it’s not been a loading competition,” said Mark Latchford. “We have a waiting list. It’s dead-man’s-shoes now to get a place.” 

Bradley Faulkner of Simulated Game Essex had managed all the traps and staff for the event, which had been perfectly run. Bradley set up the business as a hobby and puts on mostly sim days and charity events. With 70 traps, it’s an impressive and immaculately run hobby. 

He also runs sim days at his ground in Hatfield Heath. He needs 30 staff for an event like this, which takes a fair bit of sorting out. This was the largest event he’s run to date but you would never have guessed that, as the day ran smoothly. “They wanted everybody done for lunch and I think we managed that with half an hour to spare,” he said. 


Teresa Dent, chief executive of the GWCT, said: “This is a fantastic way to raise funds, everybody who comes has a lovely time and it’s an opportunity for us to get our message across. Estates like this are quintessentially GWCT. If you delve into it, into the work that gamekeepers do, almost everything they do has been informed one way or another by GWCT research. 

“We know from the research we’ve done at Allerton in Leicestershire, that released game shooting done well will produce a doubling of the population of farmland birds on that farm. Game management done well is a real force for good.” 

Jeremy Newman summed up the day: “We had a really good time. Winning the duck stand was great fun and being with Crispin, Geoff and Tom, we’ve had a great day out.” It was a fantastic event, well hosted and well run for two good causes.