12 November 1999

MAKE YOUR WOODS

PHEASANT-FRIENDLY

In the second of our series looking at the possibilities for

setting up an on-farm shoot, the Game Conservancys East

Anglian adviser Martin Tickler looks at pheasant shooting in

woodlands. The first article was in the June 11 issue of FW

PHEASANT shooting is associated in most peoples mind with woodland, but successful pheasant shoots can be run with less than 5% of the farm area in woodland. In fact, in the fens, good populations of wild pheasants thrive with no woodland.

Generally speaking, however, woodland is necessary to provide areas of sanctuary, particularly in terms of ground cover during the day and sheltered roosting at night, which pheasants actively seek out. Safety from ground predators, especially foxes, is also important.

Woodland can help in three ways. A large block of woodland can be subdivided by wide rides to create several drives, or possibly a whole days shooting within the wood itself. A series of small woods can provide excellent drives from one to another if correctly positioned. Siting is particularly important if the birds are to provide a sporting challenge and are to spread well over several of the average eight guns.

If the farm has just one or two widely scattered woods of modest size then the short term solution might be to treat the woods as holding areas, rather than drives, and to create a series of drives from game crops back towards the woods. Longer term, some of these game crops could be planted as new spinneys if desired.

Managing existing woodland habitat is essential if the potential for holding pheasants is to be fully realised. During winter months, the pheasant requires shrubby ground cover, principally as escape cover during the day and fairly dense twiggy roosting at night. Unmanaged woodland may, if you are fortunate, provide this habitat in abundance, but frequently it does not.

Ground cover

Ground cover is often suppressed by a dense tree canopy and suitable species for roosting may be absent. The type of management required will vary within individual woods, but in general, the objective is to create greater diversity of habitat. This may include coppicing, replanting, and the creation of sunny rides and glades.

Where forestry is also an important objective, the introduction of an uneven age structure within the woodland can do much to meet the habitat requirements of game. Whatever the objectives, careful planning is essential if game is to be included as too much cover can create almost as many problems as too little.

The improvement of woodland habitat for game can, with a little thought, be integrated with several management objectives, not least being the creation of diverse habitat for a variety of wildlife.

Individual landowners interest in creating pheasant habitat has long been one of the most important reasons for planting new woodlands on farmland. Planting several small woods carefully sited, is usually a better option than planting one large wood. The Game Conservancy team of game consultants have many years experience of creating sporting pheasant drives from spinneys ranging from 0.5 to 5 acres in size, as well as larger woods where appropriate.

Small spinneys

The choice of tree and shrub species and the layout is particularly important in smaller spinneys. Well-designed small spinneys on reasonable soil are often capable of holding sufficient pheasants for a drive only eight to ten years after planting. If this seems rather long term, there are short cuts such as the "instant spinney" technique, introduced by the Game Conservancy, involving planting the trees and shrubs in a compatible game cover crop.

There are a variety of grants available through the Forestry Commission for the woodland planting and for some aspects of woodland management. Planting grants currently offer £1350 per hectare for broadleaf trees, plus a £600 per hectare Better Land Supplement on areas of improved grassland. Under the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme (FWPS), in addition to the planting grant, there are annual payments of up to £300 per hectare for planting on arable land and £260 per hectare for planting on other improved land. The annual payments continue for fifteen years for woodlands containing more than 50% by area of broadleaves and for ten years for those containing 50% or less.

The investment in well planned farm woodlands has the additional benefit of significantly increasing the capital value of the land.

For further information on siting, designing and planting woodlands contact The Game Conservancy Advisory Service on 01425 651013.