Schöffel Visit The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project
2nd October 2019 by Lucy Barber
Members of the Schöffel Country sales, marketing, product development and operations teams took a visit to the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) Allerton Project in Loddington, Leicestershire.
The Trust has over 100 staff and operates more than 60 research projects with PHD students and universities. It aims to promote a thriving countryside, rich in game and other wildlife.
The GWCT develop scientifically-researched game and wildlife management techniques that bring greater biodiversity, and more reliable habitats for both resident and migratory species of wildlife. The trust works with conservationists, farmers and landowners and offer an on-site advisory service on all aspects of game and wildlife management. They share our passionate view of utterly condemning anyone involved in wildlife crime.
After a presentation on the project, delivered in their ecologically built visitor centre, with its rainwater flush toilets, haybale walls, solar power and sheep wool insulation, we donned our boots and took to the fields and pens to see some of the working parts of the project.
We stopped off first at the margins of a grass field providing grazing for sheep which were being fed on a herb mix that reduces the carbon output of the livestock. PHD students were testing and measuring the outputs from the sheep to see if a healthy and productive crop could reduce carbon output whilst increasing soil enrichment and bringing health benefits to the flock.
At the foot of the same field was a broad crop margin, planted with a mix of seed crops to appeal to a range of songbirds and flowering plants that encourage pollinators. Two layers of the crop allowed for the tri-annual cycle that these crops have, meaning that the right mixture of heavy cover and younger, lighter crop would give the greatest diversity. This margin worked harmoniously with getting the best from the land, ensuring that soil migration was limited. Although taking land area from the crop or meadow, an overall efficiency gain makes possible a less intensive use of the land.
We visited the game pens that had been carefully constructed in a large area that offered released birds a place that is more secure from predators as they learn to be ‘field-wise’. A gentle thinning/coppicing of the tree canopy encourages shrub and grass growth at ground level, providing cover, food and suitable roosts for the pheasants. The month or so that the birds spend in release pens is crucial, as it allows the birds sanctuary from predators while they learn the survival skills they will need once they have been released.
Some other aims of the Trust are to influence government policy with sound science and to advise on the best management of land with wildlife conservation as the primary focus. They are working on a project to ensure that those engaged in field sports can work towards a standard that ensures they have been trained in best practice and have achieved a level of skill as an ‘Accredited Game Shot’. This would be like a field sports ‘driving licence’ of some kind and may mean less involvement for those who simply want to pay their money without much respect for the countryside, game and wildlife.
The measurement of sustainability and bag sizes offered are also an important consideration, ensuring that the commercial benefits to those areas that rely almost entirely on field sports for their livelihood are maintained in a responsible and sustainable way. This is all based on the principle of ‘what pays, stays’, but very much aware that not everything is for sale!
It was refreshing to see such rounded and considered views on countryside management, facing squarely the challenges faced by commercial shoots, and working to educate both operators and shooters to ensure that all activities become more sustainable, more in harmony with the natural environment and remaining positive for their local communities.
For further information about The Allerton Project, visit; https://www.gwct.org.uk/allerton/