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Hedgerow heroes

BASC’s Conor O’Gorman reviews the conservation efforts of the Cold Weston Shoot in South Shropshire, with a focus on its hedgerows

In the September/October 2023 issue of BASC’s membership magazine Shooting and Conservation, there was an article about the role that shooting plays in hedgerow conservation, in the context of Government proposals to encourage more hedgerow creation in England. We called for ‘hedgerow heroes’ in the shooting community to get in touch with their stories, and I was delighted to get an email from Edward Tonks on behalf of the Cold Weston Shoot in South Shropshire. 

This rough-shooting syndicate has been quietly creating and expanding hedgerows and other areas for flora and fauna across 500 acres of pasture and arable land since 1968, using their own funds and with the support of the landowners, the Morgan family. 

The ‘magnificent seven’ currently running the syndicate are Dan and Jim McInnes, Edward Tonks, Steve and Dean Altree, Tim Foster and Randy Johnson. I spoke with shoot captain Dan McInnes, who has been central to the shoot’s conservation effort for the past 55 years. Dan explained: “It started with the hedgerows, filling the gaps as funds allowed with various native species. There are hedgerows here dating back hundreds of years, and over time as a shoot I think we have returned many of them to their former glory. 

“We have also created a network of new hedgerows and they are coming along nicely. Together with the new ponds and woods, that will be our legacy to the land, nature and the next generation of local shooters in our part of the world. 

“We run to a tight budget and a few times I have spent a bit more than I was supposed to on the hedgerows and other habitat work relative to restocking the pheasants and redlegs, but it’s been worth it in the long run. We have breeding bullfinches and red-legged partridges along the hedgerows, and in the nestboxes we have redstarts and pied flycatchers. 

“The biggest challenge currently is the grey squirrels, whose population has exploded locally in recent years. They have decimated some of our native woodland plantations, which was a big blow after all the work we put into that. They also attack the nestboxes and we have put metal plates on all 200 of them.” 

Modest budget 

Edward Tonks, who has been with the syndicate for 17 years, said: “We operate a small shoot with a modest annual budget for the habitat work and the gamebirds. We are lucky to have the opportunity to manage and shoot over the same ground for so many years, and thanks to Dan and the other members we have worked together to create a wildlife haven that we are very proud of.” 

So far, the Cold Weston Shoot has created 2.3 miles of native hedgerows, with diversity of up to 10 different tree species along these vital wildlife corridors. Hundreds of oak trees have been planted, including 40 to commemorate the Ruby Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1992. Conservation work has also included the creation of 10 shooting coverts and wildlife areas, four large wetlands and grey squirrel control. 

There are countless more shoots across the UK doing similar conservation work, spending their own money creating local nature reserves on a par or better than those managed by RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts. 

Misinformed attacks 

The misinformed attacks against our shooting activities and livelihoods are aplenty, and if ever there was a time for us to shout loudly and proudly about our conservation projects locally, now is it. 

I think the best thing we can each do is to contact our local councillors, MPs and journalists, and invite them to witness first-hand all that conservation work. Maybe then local politicians and the press will be more sceptical the next time they consider publishing a brief from the antis spreading misinformation about shooting.