Shoot that does its bit to help our wildlife
The Brownstone Shoot in South Devon is a perfect example of a once relatively barren piece of land being transformed for the benefit of the environment and earning money for the local economy, thanks to the creation of a pheasant shoot, writes Philip Bowern.
Owned by Michael and Diane Hockin and run by Mr Hockin and his gamekeeper Neil Rogers, the shoot has been 20 years in the making. Guns help to boost the local economy through the money they spend at Westcountry gun shops. Caterers who provide a shoot lunch and tea for the guns and beaters also derive part of their income, catering for the shoot. And the local community is closely involved, shooting, beating and picking up, bringing social benefits in a rural area.
But, in the case of Brownstone, which is run for the benefit of its syndicate members and not as a commercial operation, the true benefit comes from the positive impact on the environment.
A recent survey of the shoot reported that over the past 23 years the land at Brownstone had seen the planting of some 30,000 native broadleaf trees.
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Ponds have been dug, existing woodland thinned and the under-brushed cleared to encourage wildlife. Cover crops – ostensibly to hold game birds – have been planted but as a result many other bird species, some of them threatened, have been encouraged.
Before Mr Hockin established the shoot Brownstone was farmed for cereals and heavily grazed by livestock. The non-farmed areas suffered from general neglect. A report from the RSPB reveals that the shoot is now home to 38 bird species happily existing alongside the pheasant and partridge that have been introduced.
The rare birds include the nationally threatened cirl bunting, little grebes, little egret, swans, shelduck, widgeon, teal, mallard and tufted duck. Birds of prey including buzzards, barn owls, kestrels and sparrowhawks are also seen. Seven red-listed species – grey partridge, herring gulls, house sparrows, linnets, skylark, song thrush and yellowhammer were also recorded by the RSPB, which recognises the value of shooting estates managed for the benefit of wildlife.
The conservation effort put in at Brownstone – like many other shoots – is primarily carried out in order to enhance the shooting but has wider wildlife benefits. Controlling vermin, including foxes, for example, protects pheasant poults but it also means ground nesting birds can thrive. "That is what it is all about," says Mr Hockin. "We create a environment for shooting and for nature."