WALES: A game of two halves

Roger Williams discusses the two sides to driven shooting across Wales

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In Wales, nothing illustrates the state of pheasant and partridge shooting better than the experience of two driven shoots in two different parts of the Welsh Borders: one in the south and one in Montgomery. I predict it will be a ‘game of two halves’.

In the South Wales Borders, while there are many shoots, I believe clay pigeon shooting is much bigger in participation than driven game shooting. In terms of live quarry, pigeon are numerous and there are many species of deer resident. In Mid to North Wales, driven shooting is absolute king and the three largest UK commercial shoot operators (Gwyn Evans, Wayne Tuffin and Robert Jones) all come from this same part of the world.  Five million pheasant eggs are brought in from France to this area, as it is the home of poult rearing and driven shooting in Wales.

Jim Mason, resident in Berriew on the Borders in Mid Wales, estimates that within ten miles of his home there are ten syndicates, never mind the commercial shoots.  To quote him: “Every square inch of the Borders is taken up by shooting, yet I have only seen one shoot close in over ten years and that was because the chap running it was an idiot.”

Speaking to a working gun at a ‘shoot-one-beat-one’ affair in Gwent, I am told of three syndicates closing since last season and the topic of predators is immediately brought up: “We had on our shoot last year 30 or more buzzards and four to five goshawks. There are three families of foxes on the estate this year and, to my knowledge, we have hardly shot any. Our first birds are being delivered this Sunday and we’ll receive 3,000 over the next two weeks, but the goshawks are back like they have been given notice.”

Compare this to Jim Mason’s experience: he has “no problems with predators.” He continues: “We don’t see many buzzards and no goshawks. Foxes are not a problem, the Fox Society guys took 17 foxes last year.” It is a 3,500 acre-shoot with 2,000 birds put down and an eight-gun syndicate. They use only four out of seven pens, rotating their use. So far this year, Jim has seen no deer and there have been no great numbers of pigeon for several years.

On the Gwent shoot, no foxes were shot last year, and there are three families resident. Two rifles are allowed on the estate but they were quoted as saying: “I don’t like shooting cubs, I’d rather wait until they grow up.” Personally, it seems like a recipe for disaster not to control foxes on your shoot and is certainly borne out by the different predator experiences on these two shoots.

Jim’s shoot has eight guns and sells two guns each shoot day to subsidise the shooting syndicate. They take around 100 birds per shoot, although they are happy once they have 50. Shooting begins in the last week of October and continues every Saturday throughout the season. Their eight-week old poults won’t arrive for another five weeks, yet.

In Gwent, they are adding five new pens (total of 11) and, last year, added two new drives. A commercial shooting operation will run alongside the 20-gun syndicate but is currently six guns short. They are putting down 12,000 birds, up by 300 per cent over last year, and the first birds arrived on Sunday 5 July. There will be 15 commercial 150-bird days and ten 100-bird syndicate days plus two days for the larger landowner. Managing this group of people is a Herculean task with 20 syndicate members and three landowners across 15 commercial days, with a new keeper who is to supply the poults – all of this on just over 1,000 acres!

You can do the maths. I know where I like to shoot the best; I’ll keep you appraised of their progress. n

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Posted in Driven Game

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