The Allerton Project started in 1992 which served as a baseline year in which we did not change the management of the farm. In 1993, we introduced a game management system, based on previous research by the GWCT (then the Game Conservancy Trust), and including habitat management, control of nest predators, and supplementary feeding in winter. This system was designed to meet the year-round requirements of wild game birds. No game birds were released.
In 2001 we stopped the predator control component of this system in order to document the impact, not just on game, but on other wildlife as well. From 2006, we stopped the winter feeding component of the management system. Then, from 2011, we introduced a new game management system, based more on the release of reared pheasants. Our consistent, long-term monitoring programme over this whole period enables us to observe changes in abundance from year to year.
Between 1993 and 2001, numbers of wild pheasants increased substantially. Predator control increased the proportion of nests that were successful; insect-rich habitats ensured that there was food for the chicks, and winter feeding kept birds well fed and on the farm through the autumn and winter. Red-legged partridge numbers fluctuated more than those of pheasants but showed a similar trend. For brown hares, there was a similar story.
The initial increase in game abundance enabled four or five shoots to be held each year, harvesting mainly cock pheasants, but also partridges, hares and ducks. From 2002, the predator control component of the system was stopped, and habitat management and winter feeding continued, as did the monitoring. Pheasants, red-legged partridges and hares all declined in the subsequent years. There were consequently no shoots at Loddington in this period. As the habitat remained the same, the most likely explanation for the changes in hare numbers is the implementation or cessation of predator control. The explanation for changes in game bird numbers is similar, although in the latter years of this period, spring numbers of pheasants were as high as autumn numbers, suggesting some immigration in response to habitat and/or winter feeding.
Since 2011, the development of our new shoot has been associated with increases in numbers of wild pheasants, hares and songbirds.
Figure 1: Total gamebird numbers
Figure 2: Pheasant numbers
Figure 3: Hare numbers
Figure 4: Red-legged partridge numbers