A fine example of how sporting interests can provide great benefit to the wider farm environment
A summary of our ‘Game Cover’ plantings this season.
Alan Floyd is passionate about creating good habitat on this Estate and is known for having up to six or seven different types of crop in the ground in a single year. This variation of crop is important for him as some crops are planted to encourage game to stay in certain areas whilst other areas need to be robust driving cover crops which are placed on the hilltops or on the back of existing woodland. Much work is done to ensure cover areas are sited correctly and being in a livestock area much fencing has to be done to keep the livestock out which includes the red deer too!
The maize area has been reduced over time as Alan has seen that his birds respond better to a range of small seed bearing crops such as triticale, millet and linseed. This in turn has provided a great benefit to the wider farmland species.
Robert ‘Spud’ Cleave is the ultimate perfectionist! As such much time and effort is invested by Spud and the team to provide the best possible cover crop areas. Since Spud joined the Estate as head keeper he has worked tirelessly to improve the existing areas and create new drives. Farm yard manure is a key soil improver on the thin soil type so Spud works hard to liaise with the local farmers to secure as many manure heaps he can each winter. These are then spread on the plots the following spring and help to improve soil condition as well as helping to secure valuable moisture during dry periods in the summer.
Spuds efforts are definitely paying off with a fantastic range of crops from reed canary grass to maize and chicory to triticale dotted across the Estate.
Combe has a large cover area with much of it based on a thin, red shale soil type which holds very little in terms of nutrients. As such much time and effort is spent improving the ground with manure and a strict rotation of crops is helping to improve the soil condition over time.
The key crops now being a combination of triticale for the general holding areas and kale and perennial crops for the driving cover on the hill tops. With some of the most renowned drives in the country the pressure is always on to get the crops established successfully. From beat keepers to contractors it is a great team effort to ensure success with a lot of work undertaken during the spring on preparation and crop establishment.
If crops can be grown at. Challacombe on the high drives then they can be grown anywhere! Being in such a windswept location the weather is often the biggest enemy to establishing successful habitat areas. The ‘window’ to plant crops is often very narrow as the weather spring period takes much longer to warm up so planting time is limited. Once the crops are planted from early June onwards we have been greeted in recent years by either a drought (rare) or constant rain, such are the extremes.
Given the location, crop choice is quite simple. We need to grow plants that establish quickly, in difficult conditions, that provide seed and cover and can put up with the harshness of an Exmoor winter. As such a combination of turnips, kale and fodder radish are grown alongside chicory and reed canary grass ‘hedges’. Interspersed with these are strips of triticale and linseed which compliment the cover element of the other crops nicely.
The scale of the cropping here is very impressive and the shooting has introduced a mixed cropping element to the region which over time was not possible through the livestock based farming system. Such cropping brings a hugely valuable diversity to the area and is of great benefit to a host of farmland bird species.