Neil Baldock as he repairs storm damage to pens and considers late covercrops
Neil Baldock is a gamekeeper working on a low-ground shoot in Wiltshire. The farm comprises of 600 acres of mixed arable and small woodlands that were planted specifically for shooting. There is a large duck pond and the topography can only be described as rolling. The shoot has been running for well over 25 years and is a private farm family shoot with the emphasis on a good day out for all, the guns, beaters, pickers- up and hopefully the keeper if all goes well.
They release pheasant, partridge and some duck here with an excellent head of wild game as well. In addition to the usual gamecover, the farm adds in many acres of stewardship brood-rearing cover, pollen and nectar mixes for the insects and have also planted several miles of hedges and hundreds of trees.
Since the family arrived, the farm has been transformed from a large Wiltshire prairie- like affair to a more traditional farm with smaller fields and more scope for wildlife. This was done all due to the owner’s love of shooting. As well as the game birds, there are a large number of song birds, red kites, hares and deer, all thriving on this fertile land.
The shoot has nine drives, some are really only for partridge, some mixed and one for duck. The ducks are fed away from the pond at the top of a hill and driven back much like on a pheasant drive. This helps to prevent them flying around the pond. Taking them away from the pond also gives them flying practise as poults and keeps them wild. Often people allow their ducks to get too tame and then it can be impossible to make them fly properly.
The bulk of the gamecover is straight maize, but some mixtures are also planted. One of the favourites is Pheasant and Finch and Utopia from Bright Seeds. The Utopia is a late growing black mustard and kale mix. You can plant it in late June and still get a kale-type cover that will last all season long. It is a really useful crop to have in mind in case of failure or if some more ground is opened up to you. The woodland is very rarely driven out on this shoot, the woods are kept as a holding place for the pheasant and they are blanked into the covers on a shoot day, of which there are eight each season.
Repairing release pens
May is when Neil starts to get his release pens put together, this year it is busier than usual because of the storms that hit the UK in the winter. There are lots of trees down across wire fencing and the seemingly continual wet weather has rotted lots of the fence posts out. These are jobs that need to be done well before any poults arrive.
Neil will also need to make sure that there are no foxes in the pens before they are closed up and the electric fence turned on ready for the birds. The farm is busy working down the gamecover plots ready for drilling, at the moment the weather is being kind and spring so far has been what we would call normal. After the freezing spring of 2013 this is very welcome.
Time saving tip:
When you are repairing wire on a pheasant pen it will save you time to use a staple gun instead of fencing staples and a hammer. You use more staples, but it is far quicker.
Another way of saving time is to work out which areas predators visit regularly to better target your trapping and shorten the length of your daily check.
Neil runs the day-to-day aspects of the shoot, from planning drives, looking after cover crops and keeping a check on predators. “It is still vital to keep on top of the predators, I have had 30 magpies already and several mink not to mention the foxes, rats and squirrels. We also feed all-year-round to help the stock of game and song birds that are here during the hard times”. Tunnel, cage and Larsen traps have been used throughout the spring to help protect the wild birds on the shoot.
Neil has over the last few years worked out the most productive spots for tunnel traps and concentrates his efforts in those areas. “It is easy to blanket trap a farm, but once you know the lay of the land and the areas the predators use more often you can almost half the amount of traps that you need to set. This has a benefit to me as a part-timer in that I spend less time checking round each day. It also reduces the chances of catching something that we didn’t want to. Sometimes less really is more”.