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College leases 5,000-acre grouse moor to give students hands-on experience

Askham Bryan College, which runs land-based courses on its campuses in York and Newton Rigg, has leased 5,000 acres of moorland at Shap, in Cumbria, and is the first college to have such a resource of its own.

The grouse moor is 20 miles from Newton Rigg, at Penrith, which became part of Askham Bryan in August 2011.

The moor is being leased from Lonsdale Estates, and once hosted royal shooting parties, with guests including Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany.

Having a lease on a moor will give students the chance to take part in hands-on projects managing the heather moorland, as well as looking at the balance between conservation and gamekeeping.

The college already has 2,400 acres of farmland, forestry and mixed woodland that are used as a learning tool for the students. Liz Philip, Askham Bryan’s chief executive, said: “Students from both our campuses will learn about integrated moorland management, with grouse shooting as the linchpin, including carrying out wildlife surveys, conservation work, heather burning and predator control.”

“They will be working with our full-time gamekeeper, Tony Williams, building shooting butts, bridges and access tracks, and keeping alive traditional rural crafts.”

Malcolm Riding, course director of the Northern School of Game and Wildlife at Newton Rigg, told Shooting Times that though it was early days for the moor: “The key thing is that we use it for education — of our own students, those from other colleges/universities, part-time keepers, shooting enthusiasts and conservationists. There are a wide range of opportunities including the possibility of short courses.”

“It is unlikely that we will be able to produce large numbers of grouse, but our aim will be to produce a harvestable surplus through sustainable management and integrated land use.”

Robert Benson, chairman of the Moorland Association and sporting manager of Lonsdale Estates, was also enthusiastic about the move, saying: “Two centuries of sensitive land management has conserved a precious habitat for Britain’s unique wild red grouse, as well as many other threatened species.”

“This initiative is warmly welcomed and supported by the Moorland Association, as it provides a crucial learning resource for the next generation of land managers, in whose hands the future of our upland landscape, wildlife and rural economy rests.”

Newton Rigg is also currently undergoing a £3million transformation, with the money going towards a state-of-the-art dairy unit and the creation of a new National Centre for the Uplands.