Monday, 31 March 2014

GWCT April newsletter out tomorrow

Our April newsletter will be arriving in the inboxes of our members and subscribers tomorrow. It features the latest news and event details from the GWCT and you can get it for free here.

Friday, 28 March 2014

5 most popular GWCT blog posts this week

Here are the 5 most read blog posts we've published over the last week:

1. Weather can't put a dampener on Countryfile filming

2. Meet our new woodcock and track them online

3. Latest Big Farmland Bird Count News

4. 2014 Purdey Awards - deadline for entries soon

5. GWCT science praised in brown hare House of Commons motion

Subscribe to email blog updates on the right of this page or follow us on Twitter or Facebook to get the latest news as it breaks.

Weather can't put a dampener on Countryfile filming

The atrocious weather conditions couldn't get in the way of the BBC's filming of Countryfile at our Allerton Project farm on Thursday 28th March.

The programme's Tom Heap, pictured below talking to our Director of Policy Dr. Alastair Leake, endured heavy rain, sleet and snow as our work on increasing farmland bird numbers was discussed.

The episode will be broadcast on BBC1 at 7pm on Sunday 13th April.

Allerton Project shortlisted for National Recycling Awards 2014

We're very proud to announce that our Allerton Project farm has been nominated in this year's National Recycling Awards.

In fact we haven't just been nominated, we've been voted through as a finalist by a panel of 23 expert judges from the world of recycling.

A number of the other nominees are major organisations including M&S, John Lewis, B&Q, Procter & Gamble, Network Rail, DHL, npower and the Environment Agency.

We've been shortlisted in the Resource Management Business of the Year (Small) category for our farm plastics recycling operation.

The winners will be announced on 3rd July. In the meantime you can find out more about our recycling operation here.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

2014 Purdey Awards - deadline for entries soon

The deadline for those shoots wishing to enter this year’s Purdey awards for game and conservation is fast approaching. Applications need to be submitted by 9th May and you can submit yours here.

Each year the Purdey Awards recognise the efforts of shoots of all sizes that have achieved outstanding results in improving game bird habitats and the biodiversity of their land. This year a £12,500 prize fund will be shared between Gold, Silver, Bronze and Special Award winners.

Our members have a strong track record of success and last year all three winners of the Purdey Awards were GWCT members, each having received help from our Advisory Service.

Count Konrad Goess-Saurau won the Gold Award in recognition of his conservation work at Temple Shoot, transforming a 2,000-acre prairie style arable farm into a haven for birds and wildlife. The Silver Award went to Nicholas Watts, of Vine House Farm, where he was cited for his outstanding wild game and habitat management. Lady Sondes, owner of Lees Court Shoot, was given the Bronze Award, for her work to nurture and improve her land for game and wildlife, in memory of her late husband.

To enter for this year’s awards go to

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

BBC Countryfile filming with us tomorrow

The BBC will be filming a feature for a forthcoming episode of Countryfile at our Allerton Project in Loddington on Thursday 27th March.

The feature will centre around the work we have been doing to help revive farmland bird numbers.

The episode will be broadcast at 7pm on Sunday 13th April, with Countryfile typically attracting around 10 million viewers.

Be sure to check back here on Friday to see exclusive photos from the filming, or subscribe to blog updates by entering your email address on the right of this page.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

GWCT science praised in brown hare House of Commons motion

A motion was presented in the House of Commons by Sir John Randall last week calling for a close season in the hunting of the brown hare.

Initially a complete ban on any killing was going to be proposed by Sir John, but having listened to the scientific evidence presented by experts including our Director of Policy Alastair Leake, Sir John agreed that an extension of 1 February to 31 August to our brown hare code (below) would be the best course of action:

“From 1 March to 31 July hares should only be killed if they are…causing serious crop damage (as opposed to them being a potential source of risk). Not shooting at this time prevents the orphaning of dependent young during the hare’s main breeding season.”

Sir John praised our brown hare research, describing it as "extremely thorough" and highlighted the "impressive statistics" gleaned from our work at the Allerton Project farm.

The motion was read for the first time on 18th March and will be read a second time on Friday 6th June.

Friday, 21 March 2014

5 most read GWCT blog posts this week

Here are the 5 most read blog posts that we've published over the past week:

1. How to feed grey partridges

2. Webcam installed at our Salmon & Trout Research Centre

3. 5 reasons to attend the GWCT Wildlife Research Conference

4. Improved soil management giving improved yields

5. The spider man and his toothbrush

Help us at the CLA Game Fair and get FREE entry

We're looking for a team of volunteers who can help us on our stand at this year's CLA Game Fair in July. We've already had a great response from members and non-members alike but the more the merrier!

We're offering FREE entry to those who can help us with the following:

✓ Building our stand
✓ Greeting visitors to our stand
✓ Assisting in our shop
✓ Helping serve food and drink
✓ Clearing tables and washing up
✓ Taking down our stand after the show

If you are interested in helping us please click here to register your interest >

The 2014 CLA Game Fair is taking place at Blenheim Palace between 18th and 20th July.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

5 reasons to attend the GWCT Wildlife Research Conference

We're hosting an important conference in May that aims to mobilise conservationists, farmers, policy makers and all those wishing to meet future conservation targets.

Here are 5 reasons provided by GWCT Director of Research Prof Nick Sotherton outlining why you need to book your place:
  1. BASIS CPD points now available.
  2. Places going quickly, over 70% full and we have a seat limitation.
  3. Keynote speaker now confirmed – Richard Benyon MP will talk about how we really can reverse the decline in biodiversity.
  4. Come and hear how wildlife revival is actually happening on the ground.
  5. Don’t come to hear how bad things are, come and find out how to make things better!

Event details

Venue: Ondaatje Theatre, Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London
Date: Tuesday 13th May
Time: 10am to 4pm.
Tickets: £40 - Book online now >

  • 1015 Arrival and coffee
  • 1040 Welcome (Ian Coghill)
  • 1045 Introduction: Why are we here, what do we hope to achieve (Nick Sotherton)
  • 1115 Keynote speech (Richard Benyon MP)
  • 1145 Policy setting: What are the challenges facing the agri-environment measures? (Alastair Leake)
  • 1215 Cluster farms: Getting farmers to work together at the landscape scale (Peter Thompson)
  • 1245 Lunch
  • 1330 The Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area: Experiences so far from a farmer-led initiative (Chris Musgrave)
  • 1400 Optimal use of agri-environment in the landscape: How can we do better (John Holland)
  • 1430 Our catchment sensitive farming project (Chris Stoate)
  • 1500 Farmland insect declines: Climate change or intensive management? The case for more mitigation (Julie Ewald)
  • 1530 Wader recovery in the Avon Valley: A new farmer-led initiative (Andrew Hoodless)
  • 1600 Closing remarks (Teresa Dent)
Book your tickets
Tickets are selling out fast - book yours online here.

Monday, 17 March 2014

How to feed grey partridges

The leanest time for gamebirds are the late winter and early spring months. By January most of the harvest-spilt grain and weed seeds have been gleaned by birds and small mammals, leaving only green shoots and leaves for gamebirds to feed on.

Once the shooting season finishes, feed hoppers are often allowed to run out, leaving gamebirds, which have been used to being well fed, with a potential shortage of food.

Research has shown that gamebirds lose weight and condition during these lean months so that come the breeding season in April and May, when hen birds have to produce and incubate eggs, and when this causes them to lose weight naturally, many are simply not in good enough condition to breed successfully.

Advice for feeding grey partridges

Feed hoppers for grey partridges should be put out well before the coveys split up (often in December in mild winters). They should be placed near suitable nest sites such as tussocky grass margins, either on their own or next to a fence, wall or hedge. Divisions between crops and beetle banks are also
good places.

Put out at least one feeder per pair that you expect to see. If in doubt, place one where you see partridges regularly or where you thought they may have nested previously. It is also advisable to put out extra hoppers, as they may attract pairs into your area. Research shows that hoppers help to ‘fix’ pairs of grey partridges and there is a strong link between hopper position and nest site, usually within 20 metres.

The hopper itself should be between 20-40 litres in size and set at a height of around 20-25 centimetres (8”-9”) from the ground. Wheat is the ideal grain to fill them with. As with pheasants, wheat is currently our recommended feed until we test alternatives. French keepers often cover them with fir branches, which may offer some protection from predators. It is also helpful in finding the hopper again once the crop has grown up around it – hoppers and fir branches are not ideal materials for the combine!

Many keepers, including the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Malcolm Brockless, have designed their own cage-like structure around the hopper. This seems to help keep
raptor predation to a minimum. Crows and jackdaws can sometimes take a lot of grain from hoppers, but weldmesh structures help to stop many of them as well – they are too suspicious to enter. It doesn’t, however, seem to stop partridges once they have become accustomed to it. Mesh (size 20x20cm or 8”x8”) keeps both deer and badgers at bay - both can be extremely destructive. If the structure is also supporting the hopper it can easily be moved to keep the ground beneath it ‘clean’.

Each time the hopper is moved any rat holes can be baited to reduce their numbers. Hoppers should be kept full until the end of May and then slowly allowed to run out. However, in France a year-round hopper system is employed and feeders can be seen out on the stubbles even after harvest.

FREE Grey Partridge Conservation Guide

Download your free guide to grey partridge conservation >

Thursday, 13 March 2014

5 most read blog posts this week

These are the most read blog posts from the GWCT this week:

1. How we saved money with sustainable energy at the Allerton Project (GWCT News)

2. Sunny weather leads to glut of new location data (Woodcock Watch)

3. Do constructed wetlands work? (Allerton Project Research)

4. Abandonment & divorce in the swan family! (Peter Thompson's Blog)

5. The capture and tagging of 'Smithy' (Woodcock Watch)

'Smithy' the recently tagged woodcock

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

How we saved money with sustainable energy at the Allerton Project

The Allerton Project’s eco-visitors’ centre was designed to be energy efficient. Here are some statistics showing how it has performed in terms of its energy consumption and usage after just one year.

£3,352 saved on oil costs. Instead 14.5 tonnes of wood has been burnt by the woodchip boiler, cutting our CO2 by 13.8 tonnes.

£225 - the cost of producing our own fuel – 90 tonnes of woodchip. Based on chipping cost at £15 per tonne.

5,930 kilowatts of electrical power have been produced by our solar panels, saving us £711 compared with purchasing from the grid. It has also brought in income through the Feed In Tariff payments, which have generated £2,490. This has reduced our CO2 emissions by 3.11 tonnes.

About the Allerton Project

The Allerton Project's aims are to research the effects of different farming methods on wildlife and the environment, and to share the findings from this research through educational activities.

Find out more about the Allerton Project >

Woodcock information coming in thick and fast

New location updates from the woodcock taking part in our Woodcock Watch satellite project are coming in very quickly. The sunnier weather has recharged the satellite tags meaning we have new data from some birds we have not heard from in some time.

Read the latest Woodcock Watch location updates >

Friday, 7 March 2014

5 most read GWCT blog posts this week

These are the most read blog posts from the GWCT this week:

1. Bucking the national moth trend at Allerton (GWCT Blog)

2. Why it's important to improve biodiversity on your shoot (GWCT Blog)

3. Location Update: Lanyon back in Cornwall (Woodcock Watch Blog)

4. Feather, fur, fin and all (Peter Thompson's Blog)

5. Creating the ultimate pollinator patch (GWCT Blog)

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Thursday, 6 March 2014

GWCT Biodiversity Assessment – a shoot owner’s perspective

By Barney Stratton

I run a commercial shoot at Stockton in Wiltshire. We run a pretty intensive operation over a substantial acreage and employ five full time keepers. We believe we do things to a very high standard, offering high quality sport from professional management and we also do our best to conserve the wildlife that shares the ground with our game.

Last summer I had a biodiversity visit from Mike Swan and this turned out to be really useful. On a very simple level, it allowed us all to stand back and examine what we were doing as a whole. It was very reassuring to find out that we were working in the right direction and doing more beneficial things than we might have realised. Mike also pointed out one or two areas where the keepers would
gain from a brief training session to bring them up-to-date with current practice.

In common with many shoots, we have been trying to reintroduce grey partridges but without much success. Mike suggested that our landscape had changed so much over the years, that we really no longer had sufficient good grey partridge habitat to warrant this. The woods planted in the more open areas by previous generations have seen to that. However, 2013 brought us a new success with the first breeding lapwings for several years on our cover crop areas. Mike helped identify what we had done right, and that we could probably build on this by putting together a set of proposals to further improve their prospects by providing extra habitat and enhancing predation control in the main lapwing area. We have high hopes that this will be a further little on-going conservation benefit that we can offer as a result of the shoot.

Biodiversity Assessment - what's involved
  • A thorough on-site survey of your shoot
  • Careful examination of release sites (if any)
  • A review of the feeding system
  • Examination of game and wildlife habitat and how it is managed
  • A review of predation control strategy and practice
  • A confidential report on the current state of the shoot
  • An action plan for future improvement of both shoot and biodiversity
Arrange a visit

You can arrange a visit from one of our local advisors - find out more >

Why is it important to improve biodiversity on your shoot?

GWCT Advisor Mike Swan explains

These days we hear lots about ‘best practice’, but frankly I do not care for the term. Best practice implies that some ultimate goal has been achieved and that we can therefore sit back, but it seems to me that this is rarely true. Knowledge is ever improving and what seemed like the best way to do something 10 years ago, may well seem rather primitive today.

We know a great deal about good shoot management and good wildlife conservation these days, and yet our critics keep on attacking what we do. Over the last 20 or so years, we have published lots of work that shows conservation benefits from game management activities. Whether it is woodland management, growing cover crops, or managing fragile upland ecosystems, we know a great deal about how to improve our shoots and benefit a range of other wildlife.

But, no matter how good it all is, there is always the scope to do better: hence the Biodiversity Assessment Scheme from our advisory team. With a long history of providing carefully tailored advice to individual shoots, no one is better placed to set you up with an improvement plan. We will not just think about how to make the shoot run successfully, but how to maximise the broader wildlife benefit too.

For example, can you get a bit more value from your cover crops? Maize with sorghum is pretty much a mainstay in the south, but the value of these crops to farmland birds like linnets and yellowhammers is small. However, strips of small seeded crops like millet and quinoa would offer a valuable winter food source. If these crops were part of a well thought through plan, they would probably make the maize and sorghum blocks more attractive to pheasants and partridges as well.

Similar improvements are likely to be possible in most other habitats too. Small projects that enhance the environment may seem a little trivial, but the sum effect when added up over the whole shoot can be quite substantial. Spending a few days each winter cutting out woodland glades can make a big difference to the breeding warblers after a few years, as well as giving better flushing and holding habitat for the pheasants.

Make no mistake, shooting as we know it is under pressure, and that applies at the individual shoot level too. Having a designated conservation policy in place, with achievable but challenging targets, keeps everyone focused and helps to deliver a better future. So, why not book a visit from your local advisor, and see how you might improve the biodiversity contribution from your shoot this year.

The Purdey Awards for Game and Conservation

Each year the Purdey Awards recognise the efforts of those shoots that have achieved outstanding results in improving game bird habitats and the biodiversity of their land.

This year a £12,500 prize fund will be shared between Gold, Silver, Bronze and Special Award winners.

You can find out more about entering your shoot here.

Creating the ultimate pollinator patch

The word ‘pollinator’ seems to be mentioned in every Government document that is written on the countryside at the moment.

A pollinator is anything that encourages the process by which pollen is transferred from one flower to another, allowing flowers to become fertilised and thus produce seeds and fruits. A number of plants, such as grasses, are pollinated by the wind. Bees, although important, actually perform only part of this process as a myriad other species such as flies, midges, beetles, wasps, thrips, bugs, butterflies, moths and even mammals all play their part too.

So planting the ‘perfect’ pollinator patch is often more difficult than you first thought. To simplify it, I am going to concentrate on a mix for bumblebees, as they are the species that the Government is currently encouraging farmers to plant mixes for.

  • Choose your place to plant.
  • Clean the ground of weeds such as docks, ragwort and thistles.
  • Choose plants that flower for as long as possible throughout the year, ideally from spring right through to autumn.
  • Sow from April to September (the best time is July and August). Do not add any grass to the mix. If the area becomes very weedy in year one, you should consider mowing.
  • Once fully established, you can cut half the area in June, as this will encourage it to re-grow and flower again in the late summer and autumn, when not many other flowers are available.

GWCT Advisory Visits

Our team of well-respected regional advisors can provide solutions and prescriptions based on science and local knowledge. Find out more >

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Latest cover crop findings from Allerton

Kings Game Cover and Conservation Crops supports the Allerton Project at Loddington by providing on-going management advice and seed supply for the game cover and conservation crops on the farm.

The game cover and wild bird seed plots had developed well. However, the very dry period in the summer had held some of the kale within the wild bird seed mixtures back. Although a taller canopy would have been preferred, many of the plots will be kept for two years as the kale develops further. This helps to reduce the workload in terms of re-establishment, but more importantly, supplies valuable canopy and nectar flower in the spring and summer along with a great source of seed in the following winter.

A beneficial rotation is developing within the plots by growing brassica and cereal-based wild bird seed mixtures along with occasional strips of maize for game cover. This rotation helps to reduce the build-up of soil-borne disease such as club-root and provides weed control opportunities. Each of the crops planted has an agreed herbicide strategy prior to planting, which is essential if they are to establish successfully.

Supplementary feeding started in late December and will run through to the end of May. This option sees the provision of a seed mixture of wheat, oilseed rape, sunflowers, canary seed and millet along tracks and adjacent to areas of wild bird seed mixture three times a week. Farmland birds have responded well to this seed source with a wide range of species being seen.

With plans to improve existing margins and develop the on-going nectar flower and wildflower establishment trials, there is plenty to be working on this spring.

Game cover training day

Come and see the cover crops for yourself at the Kings and NGO training day on Wednesday 26th March at the Allerton Project, Loddington, Leicestershire. Designed specifically for game managers, the day aims to give targeted advice on crop management techniques and how they can be incorporated into the latest farming initiatives. To book please contact Kings on 0800 587 9797 or email

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Bucking the national moth trend at Allerton

Nationally moths are declining, but these important species are flourishing at our Allerton Project

A report last year by Butterfly Conservation and Rothamstead Research assessed the status of Britain’s larger moths and showed a 28% decline in national moth numbers.

We have been operating a Rothamstead moth trap at our Allerton Project farm at Loddington since 1995, and our 18 years of data paints a rather different picture. Over this period the catches increased by 76.5% and of the 302 species showing trends, 181 increased and 121 decreased. In addition, the number of species captured per year showed an upward trend.

Typical examples of moths that have experienced major population changes include the garden tiger (-92%), buff arches (-80%), the green carpet (+230%) and the dingy footman (+1,851%) a lichen feeding species. Interestingly, several other lichen feeding species have shown similar increases, including the beautiful hook-tip, which has recently colonised Loddington.

Some moths are now flourishing on our Allerton Project farm. Nationally the straw dot moth has
not increased dramatically, but at Loddington, 25 were caught in the first nine years of trapping and 1,202 in the second nine. We believe this increase was in response to creating the species’ preferred habitat close to the trap, in the form of a 20 metre Stewardship grass margin incorporating three small ponds.

The stunning Merveille du Jour moth has also started to appear. This may be because we are planting a lot more oak (the larval food plant) in our woodland, a surprisingly scarce tree when we began managing the estate in 1992.

Over 2,400 species of moth have been recorded in the British Isles, of which about 900 fall into the larger moth category (macros), while the rest are placed in the small category (micros). If you are one of the many people who think that moths are boring, brown and offer little benefit to anything, then think again. Take the Silver Y moth, probably our most common migrant which comes from
as far away as north Africa to spend the summer months here. They select the fastest and most favourably directed airstreams, to enable them to migrate distances of between 300km and 400km per night, flying at speeds of more than 50km per hour.

Many moths are spectacularly beautiful, such as the large elephant hawk moth and the garden tiger moth. Also moths are a hugely important ‘link’ in the food chain as so many other creatures such as bats and birds feed on them or their caterpillars. Many species time the hatching of their chicks to coincide with peak caterpillar numbers. A blue tit chick, for instance, can eat up to 100 caterpillars a day, so to feed a brood of 10, the parents may need to find a staggering 1,000 caterpillars a day.

So, why not start to find out about moths? It does not matter where you are in the country; you can easily get to see them. Just by leaving an outside light on or using a light bulb and a white sheet you can attract moths. But ideally you need a moth trap, which you can buy ready made, or build yourself by getting hold of a few fairly cheap parts. It is a fabulous way to get children involved in wildlife as they thoroughly enjoy the excitement of checking out the ‘catch’ in the morning.

There is an amazing ‘mothy’ world out there waiting to be discovered.

Find out more about our pioneering Allerton Project >

Monday, 3 March 2014

Join our Partridge Count Scheme

Our spring Grey partridge count is currently taking place as we attempt to measure breeding abundance in the UK.

We've been running this voluntary scheme since 1933 to help us assess and improve partridge numbers through effective management and conservation.

Counts help identify what is limiting partridge numbers while success motivates further effort.

Landowners and managers who take part in the count scheme are then able to witness first-hand the outcome of their management in successive counts.

We need your help

We're asking farmers, land managers, landowners, keepers and shoots who want to help conserve their grey partridge to join, count and submit their findings to us.

What we give to help you count and increase partridges numbers

- Forms and instructions on how to count in a standardised and systematic way.
- Site-specific guidance based on your count results.
- A twice-yearly newsletter with research news, advice and local information.
- Regional groups offering talks and discussions with GWCT advisors and scientists.
- Farm visits to see partridge conservation in practice.

Join the scheme online

We hope you'll join the Partridge Count Scheme and help us reverse the decline in Grey partridge numbers.

You can join quickly and easily online >