Habitat is the vital ingredient in game development, but unfortunately over the last 20 years the great big yellow machine wrecked a large portion of habitat in this green isle, all in the name of progress. Understandably, it is the farmer’s prerogative to gain every available acre of land. In hindsight, one wonders if it was really necessary to clear away that corner of hazel or drain, that small bit of marshland, not to mention the number of ponds that were drained. Thankfully, the introduction of REPS. put an end to all unplanned development. Generally speaking, gun clubs have the goodwill of the majority of farmers and if some have not, then they should go out to actively gain it.
When a gun club is planning its game development, it should take stock of the habitat available to in the club area and plan accordingly. If the club is in a non tillage area where intensive dairying and/or beef production is carried out with 40 acre plus fields, no ditches or hedgerows and plenty of slurry spread, they should not consider pheasant release. But on the other hand, there may be ample streams or rivers to develop flight ponds for mallard, widgeon, teal, etc.
At the moment there are grants available from the NARGC for such projects. There are also ample booklets available to provide advice on the matter and application forms can be had from the NARGC office. For larger wetland development, funds are available under certain criteria from the Duck Stamp Programme. If, on the other hand, your district contains trees, shrubs, hedgerows and scrub together with tillage, marginal land, extensive grazing of cattle or sheep, then you should consider pheasant release and alternate with mallard and flight ponds in successive years to gain the best of both worlds.
We would suggest where a pheasant release programme is in place that a number of food crops be sown throughout the district. The suggested food crops are as follows:- Quinoa, Sweetcorn, Kale, Swedes, Artichokes, Kingmix, Oil-seed rape, Oats, Turnips and Potatoes. As a matter of fact, if the ground is just ploughed and left, a good crop of weeds will emerge which will include redshank, lamb’s quarter, fat hen etc, which in themselves make an excellent source of food, including playing host to abundant insect life.
We suggest that anyone who is actively involved in farming or who has the friendly ear of a farming relation or neighbour should in the nicest possible way advise against further habitat destruction.
Natural Wild Stock
If your club area happens to hold a good natural wild pheasant stock you are indeed very lucky and you should do your utmost to help conserve that stock. While not wishing to interfere with whatever method is presently in operation in your club, we nonetheless invite you to consider the following suggestions which may help your wild stock even more. Continue and improve where possible, your pest control programme, paying particular attention to mink. If not already doing so, consider sowing small food plots and cover crops (as listed elsewhere).
Surplus cock pheasants left over after the end of season can be a nuisance. How often have we seen a cock pheasant chasing a broody hen pheasant during the month of May when she has left her nest for food and water and not interested in copulation, and he, as a result of surplus cocks is hell bent on getting his rations. Again, as mentioned elsewhere, the stress factor is introduced and as likely as not, she will not return to her nest. Like the good gardener who prunes and feeds his rose bushes well to ensure a full and plentiful supply the same principle should apply here. Under shooting of cock pheasants can often be more harmful to the improvement of wild stock.
Strategically placed hoppers can be a great advantage to pheasants in the wild. We find that wheat is the better grain to use. There are a number of excellent hoppers available at the moment but very serviceable home made DIY versions at no cost will do an excellent job. The benefit of continuing hopper feeding well into the spring is that it will have the hens in very good condition for the forthcoming breeding season.