11 June 1999

SHOULD YOU AIM

FOR A SHOOT?

WITH arable and stock farming seriously depressed, the Game Conservancy Trusts headquarters have been buzzing with inquiries from farmers wanting to know about using ground for shooting.

Questions which have been fielded by the GC advisory team have ranged from "What sort of shoot can I run on a 500-acre farm?" to "How much rent should I be charging?" and "How much is it worth if I plant cover crops for the shoot tenants?" The answer is that it depends on the characteristics of the ground concerned. However, for those who are interested in diversifying their farm by establishing a shooting enterprise, it is useful to consider some of the basic options.

Let the land

Perhaps the simplest choice and in many ways the one with least risk. Someone, somewhere almost certainly wants to use the shooting potential of your land no matter what it looks like. They are also likely to pay you rent for the privilege of doing so. The range of deals available is huge. In remote areas, where the demand is probably only for a little bit of rough shooting over a small hill farm, it may well be that a bottle of whisky or two and a share of the spoils is all that can be expected for ongoing permission to bring the dog and gun for a walk.

At the other end of the scale, given the sort of terrain where you can show top-quality driven birds, rents of up to £25/ha (£10/acre) for the whole farm are realistic. This is especially so if the farm is well sited and therefore easy for the visiting guns to get to.

Most shoot tenants will wish to plant well-sited cover crops. In this way they can probably make up for any deficiencies in the existing cover of woodlands, hedgerows and ponds.

The average shooting tenant would also expect to pay compensation for the loss of agricultural production. A figure along the lines of the gross margin from the land concerned plus any extra costs for cultivation and establishment is perfectly normal and widely recognised. High overall rent figures however, do rely on the potential to show top quality driven birds, good co-operation with the farm and a willingness to put cover crops where they are most beneficial for the shoot.

Run the shoot yourself

Many farmers have an interest in shooting, which means that they either dont want to let the shooting rights or that they would not have enough control if a shooting tenant ran the entire exercise. Much greater income can be earned by running the shoot entirely in hand and letting the sport commercially. However, high-income strategies almost always involve a higher degree of risk and this is the case with shooting.

The Game Conservancy advisory team has frequently examined shoot accounts which turn over a large sum of money, but which do not yield a higher overall income than by letting the sporting to somebody else.

There are, however, very well- run commercial shoots that do make a profit. Such enterprises usually have a number of common factors. For example, the owner often shows a serious enthusiasm for running the shoot and will probably have a top-class gamekeeper. The high quality of sport on offer also allows him to charge a premium on the overall price of the shooting.

Mix the options

In between these two extremes are a huge range of other options, all of which are worth considering. A good compromise is to let the shooting and retain a couple of days of sport for yourself. Alternatively, you could organise a syndicate of family and friends and run a non-profit shoot, which would yield maximum sport with minimum cost. This option has the advantage that you should not have to charge VAT. Do remember that the shoot owner must demonstrate that the syndicate really is a group of family and friends and that he pays his own share towards the total cost of the shoot to avoid VAT in this way.

Another widely-used option is to extend this slightly and recognise that the syndicate members will have to be charged VAT. By letting a few extra days to outside parties you might generate an income in lieu of the rent that would be obtainable and still have a little free shooting.

Whatever your approach, it is wise to remember that virtually every successful shoot has grown from relatively small beginnings. Very few people have been able to take on a piece of land, employ a gamekeeper, put in the cover crops, put down the game and set the whole thing running and make a profit in the first year.

However, given a willingness to learn from mistakes and build on experience it might be perfectly possible to put together a worthwhile shoot on virtually any farm. Anyone who would like to explore these ideas further and have an assessment made of the potential of their own land can contact their regional Game Conservancy advisor through the Game Conservancy headquarters (01425-651013).

Can I make money by running a shoot on the farm? Its a

simple question with a fairly complex answer, as

Dr Mike Swan from the Game Conservancy Trust explains