The latest Shoot Benchmarking Survey has revealed the number of shoots working to improve wildlife habitats and provided insight into how shoots can keep turning a profit.

The important contribution of shooting to wildlife conservation and the increasing profitability of shoots has been highlighted in the Shoot Benchmarking Survey 2015-2016, recently published by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and estate agent Savills.

The survey looked at the average salaries, costs, shoot performance and conservation work of 141 shoots across Great Britain and found that of those shoots surveyed, 97 per cent fed gamebirds after the shooting season was over and 55 per cent fed songbirds voluntarily. Furthermore, 70 per cent shot over land that is in a paid agri-environment habitat improvement scheme, while 16 per cent were involved in voluntary schemes such as the Campaign for the Farmed Environment. Fifty per cent of shoots paid for habitat improvements themselves.

Shoots contribution to wildlife conservation

Roger Draycott, GWCT head of advisory services, explained: “As well as providing unrivalled financial management data for shoots, the survey also collects important information on the contribution that shoots make to wildlife conservation.”

The survey also found that 83 per cent of shoots have established buffer strips and/or field corners and 69 per cent have planted woodland in the past 10 years, with an average of 41 acres per shoot.

Meanwhile, a rise in both bookings and optimism for the forthcoming season has led to increasing profitability. Shoots have increased their charges by 4.6 per cent on last year, and half are planning to increase them again for next season.

Increasing profitability of shoots

Andrew Teanby of Savills Research noted: “The biggest difference in performance between profitable and loss-making shoots is in fixed costs, especially those relating to staff. But the difference in staff costs is not a race to the bottom, as the salaries of full-time headkeepers on profitable shoots are higher — the difference is that on profit-making shoots they look after more birds.”

He continued: “There is also a difference in shoot performance. Profitable shoots put down more birds, have more let days, larger bag sizes, have higher returns and generally charge more per bird.

“All of the above translates into substantial differences in the income each let day generates.”

Average variable shoot costs are rising, mainly due to feed costs increasing by 18 per cent since 2009- 2010, but total fixed costs have fallen and the number of shoots making a loss has dropped to 35 per cent, compared with 59 per cent two years ago.

Shoot charges per bird are up on 2009-2010, with the average price paid per pheasant climbing by 17 per cent to £35.12 and the price of partridge rising 23 per cent to £34.42. There was very little change in the average price paid for poults this season, however, with pheasants at £3.64 per bird and partridges at £4.21. Furthermore, 28 per cent of shoots intended to release more birds this summer, which is up on the 22 per cent last year, and the total costs per bird put down have fallen by one per cent to an average of £12.86.

Shoot staff salaries continue to rise

The survey found that staff salaries continue to rise, with an average headkeeper earning £23,159 per year — 5.7 per cent higher than last year’s figure. Shoots have reported that they are increasing staff salaries across the board by an average of 2.5 per cent. The majority of shoots pay beaters £25-£30 per day and pickers-up £30-£40, a respective rise of 15 per cent and 19 per cent since 2009-2010.

There has also been a small increase in the number of headkeepers receiving a pension — 59 per cent this year, compared with 55 per cent last year. It is expected that this figure will rise as more shoots prepare for auto-enrolment.