The interest that Lord and Lady Allerton had on the role of shooting within the wider countryside ensured that a shoot would form an integral part of the work of the Allerton Project. Operating a shoot at Loddington is in keeping with GWCT’s philosophy of “conservation through wise use” and provides the opportunity to research its environmental impact.
Following the baseline year of 1992, when a record was made of the existing status of game and wildlife at Loddington, the shoot has gone through three main developmental phases.
Phase one, lasting nine years, involved the implementation of a game management system to produce a stock of wild-bred pheasants. A full-time keeper using legal predator control and a feeding programme was able to show around 500 birds for shooting. This approach allowed a study of the breeding behaviour of Loddington pheasants, providing information on nesting success, predation and habitat use. Of particular note during this period were the significant recorded increases in the populations of brown hares and songbirds.
The second phase, again nine years, saw the dismantling of the game management system through, initially, the removal of predator control and, five years later, winter feeding. This was done to investigate the impact of these practices on game and wildlife. By the end of this phase songbird, hare and pheasant populations had all dropped close to those present in the baseline year.
The third phase, six years and ongoing, has seen the employment of a seasonal gamekeeper with the releasing of 2,500 cock pheasants. Predator control and a feeding programme have been reinstated. The response of both hare and songbird populations has been favourable, with the songbird population index now standing at 92% of the 1992 baseline. Only cock pheasants have been released to encourage a build-up of successfully breeding ‘wild’ hens, which would enable us to release fewer birds. This has not worked to date and will be the subject of further research.
An essential aspect of shoot design lies in providing sufficient, properly distributed habitat for game. At Loddington we have done this in a number of ways. Our woodland has been managed primarily for pheasants and the area available doubled. During the set-aside period, large blocks were broken up and used to form a mosaic of smaller ‘game-friendly’ patches, such as wild bird cover. More recently, our involvement in stewardship schemes, including HLS, has allowed us to tailor habitats more precisely. The least productive agricultural land has been used to accommodate shoot habitats and their impact on other wildlife has always been a consideration.
Habitat change at Loddington has undoubtedly been one of the main drivers for its wildlife population increases, but game management has also played an important role. If this were not the case, then we wouldn’t have seen the population declines noted during the second phase of the shoot’s history, when considerable habitat improvements had already been put in place.
The shoot’s aims are to demonstrate best practice game management using GWCT scientific knowledge whilst also testing and developing new management approaches, to provide a quality sporting experience, and to involve the local community (beaters, pickers up, suppliers, caterers etc).
To fund these aims, shoot days are sold at GWCT fundraising events. For information on forthcoming events at the Allerton Project click here. If you would like to make a booking to view and learn more about the shoot, please contact us, and we will happily accommodate groups at our award-winning Visitor Centre, which now receives almost 4,000 visitors a year.