14 June 2021

GWSDF Auchnerran prospers through the pandemic

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has published the 2020 annual report for the Game & Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm at Auchnerran on Deeside and, despite the pandemic impacting on research and demonstration activity, the farming operation performed well over the year.

David Noble, Chairman Scotland, GWCT, says in his introduction to the report: “2020 has been a year like no other. The impact of the pandemic has not spared our research and demonstration activities on the farm. In contrast, the farming operation continued to make progress and produced an excellent return for us, both financially and environmentally.”

Despite the restrictions, the Auchnerran-based research students still managed to deliver a broad-ranging research programme and maintained the datasets on birds, mammals and habitats. The aims of the farm are: “to demonstrate to practitioners, policy makers, influencers and learners of all ages how a wild, mixed-species shoot and productive farm can contribute to a net gain in natural capital in a marginal hill-edge setting.” Inevitably, opportunities for the farm to open its gates for such activities were severely limited due to COVID.

Farming

Since the tenancy was taken on by the Trust in 2015, an objective has been improvement of the quality and health of the sheep flock. This is expected to reach its optimum size of 1,500 ewes this year. The farm enjoyed reasonable weather during much of the spring and summer and above average temperatures and low rainfall in 2020, and final lambing figures were a satisfactory 120%. There were good silage and turnip crops and good results at market.

The size of the flock is determined by available winter grazing on the farm, and also the requirements for tick control on the neighbouring 5,000 ha hill where the treated flock performs the important task of reducing tick on the moor and consequently the spread of tick-borne pathogens, louping ill and Lyme disease.

The campaign against rabbits on the farm continues as they are the main factor limiting availability of on-farm forage for the sheep.

The shoot

Five rabbit and four mixed species shoot days were managed during 2019/20 before COVID, with 34 guns hosted and respectable bags achieved. A modest harvest of wild pheasant is taken annually, based on counts of breeding birds and their productivity, to ensure that stock for future years is not reduced. Feeder numbers have been increased and game crops improved to provide more food and cover for pheasants and other wildlife over winter, and to help hen pheasants maintain body condition during egg-laying. Predator control is also crucial in maintaining high breeding success.

Research and monitoring

Almost 30 separate projects were undertaken. These included: gamebird and hare counts; farmland bird counts; raptor counts and breeding surveys; breeding wader monitoring; red squirrel transects; soil invertebrate sampling; bumblebee transects; mud snail sampling; grain hopper monitoring.

Trail cameras are a very important tool for monitoring grain hopper usage and also wader nests. Densities of lapwing and oystercatcher at Auchnerran suggest that it is in the top 1% of breeding sites for these species in Scotland, and waders once again enjoyed a successful year with high productivity – between 71% and 87% of wader nests monitored saw hatching with recorded losses to badgers, hedgehogs and common gulls. The high breeding success can likely be attributed to habitat (diverse unimproved pasture) and predator control.

A major exercise in 2020 has been a focus on a carbon audit and natural capital accounting. The growing sheep flock is increasing greenhouse gas emissions but this is partially mitigated by the amount of carbon-sequestering woodland on the farm. The GWCT is also looking at ways to reduce emissions, for example by intelligent livestock management, and use of fertilizer and equipment.

Demonstration

The farm’s landlord has generously completed the renovation of the old mill and associated derelict buildings, and these now provide office and lab space, storage, and a reception area for larger meetings and lectures. The lack of such facilities has restricted such activities in the past.

Dr Dave Parish, Head of Scottish Lowland and GWSDF Research, says: “We look forward to being able to share our new facilities with our usual target audience of scientists, farmers, policy makers and influencers – but also to be able to host whole classes of school children in due course.”

David Noble, Chairman Scotland, GWCT, concludes: “I would like to thank the staff and students at Auchnerran, and all who have supported this important initiative. 2020 was for us another successful year despite the challenges. I look forward to when we can more freely develop the scientific results, practical advice and use of our new demonstration and meeting facilities that will make Auchnerran one of the most important research and demonstration farms in Scotland.”

The GWSDF Auchnerran annual report can be downloaded here,

Further information from:

Dave Parish
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
Tel: 07889 891956
E: dparish@gwct.org.uk


Notes to editors

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is an independent wildlife conservation charity which carries out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats. We employ 22 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse.

For information, contact:

Playfair Walker
Telephone: 0131 445 5570
Email: richard@playfairwalker.com

Please donate to support the GWCT's vital conservation work

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