Blog written by Tim Furbank, Oakbank Game & Conservation
I think it has now dawned on everyone involved in shooting that Covid-19 is having a massively disruptive effect on our sport. Many shoots have already taken the decision to ‘mothball’ for a year rather than risk a massive investment in birds only to find there are restrictions in place during the season or that the collapse in the economy means they cannot sell their days.
I’m a fairly optimistic person (a good job as all my fishing, rugby and trips to the pub are currently banned) and I don’t believe there will be any restrictions on shooting come the start of the season. I am however, realistic enough to know that there is unlikely to be any corporate money spent on shoot days and that private individuals’ shooting funds are also going to be squeezed.
I can only reiterate what Roger Draycott said in his blog that if you are a game shot and you can afford to do so then please try to support shoots by offering to pay a deposit now. This will provide reassurance and security across the sector and mean that the vital conservation work of gamekeepers can continue this spring.
For those shoots which have already decided to mothball for the forthcoming season, this is an opportunity to prepare now for the following year. Hopefully ‘keepers will be kept on to continue with predation control, woodland improvements and pen maintenance but you should also think about your game crop areas. If you are not using these areas for drives this season then why not take this opportunity to plant some longer-term crops that take a year or two to establish.
Crops such as reed canary grass or miscanthus could be planted without the need to oversow with a crop to deliver cover this year. That means the canary grass and miscanthus should produce stronger plants this year and be a game crop in their own right from year 2.
If you don’t want to invest in perennial crops then please do not leave your game plots fallow for the year. The soil will erode, the structure will deteriorate, the fertility will reduce and the weed burden will increase. You will be giving yourself more problems next spring. Instead, consider growing a ‘soil improving’ crop.
Use legumes such as vetch and clover to fix nitrogen in the soil for next year’s crop. Add other species such as phacelia and forage rye to provide diversity for the soil bacteria for soil structure and to protect the soil from erosion. Prepare the seedbed as you would for the game cover, spraying off weeds in advance of drilling in May.
If annual weeds then appear in the crop, you can simply mow them. The beneficial plants will continue to root and grow underground and you will deal with your annual weeds such as fat hen, redshank, foxtail millet and thorn apple. Leave the green cover in place over winter and you will find the soil works far better next spring, making seedbed preparation easier and the cost of establishing game crops reduced.
For more information about specific crops or to discuss your individual requirements please contact Tim Furbank at Oakbank on 01480890686 or email firstname.lastname@example.org