Game Cover Case Study
Raisthorpe Manor, North Yorkshire
“We use Kings because of the back up and advice we receive throughout the season – from first visits and establishment to agronomic decisions and follow-ups. They really care about what they supply and the service they provide.”
– Head Keeper, Matt Hawes
An ongoing commitment to increase biodiversity and effectively manage the game cover plots at Raisthorpe Manor is instrumental to the success of its extensive sporting estate. With help from Kings Crops, the team has incorporated a range of new solutions tailored to the business and wider farm environment.
Owned by David and Julia Medforth, Raisthorpe Manor is a thriving and diverse family business in North Yorkshire. While a working arable farm, the 2,000 acre estate is also home to a celebrated gin business alongside its highly regarded sporting programme and simulated shoot, Raisthorpe Flyers.
Kings has supplied seed to the estate for twenty years, with farm manager, Neil Smith, establishing over 100 hectares of game cover, holding areas and stewardship plots every season. Hosting a significant number of shoot days a year in a landscape that incorporates a combination of crops, crags and slopes, Raisthorpe boasts some of the most exceptional sporting birds in the country; particularly partridges and stratospheric pheasants.
New mixtures to support the wider business
Following his appointment in 2018 to head keeper, Matt Hawes began exploring options to help with the logistics of managing such an extensive shoot while also incorporating valuable stewardship features. Having previously worked with Kings senior technical advisor, Meehal Grint, Matt sought his expertise and they began a full review of the plots before drawing up new plans.
“It was important that any changes we made didn’t compromise the effectiveness of the game cover plots,” explains Meehal. “Given the high number of shoot days hosted by the estate each season and the difficult springs experienced in previous years, we needed to work closely with the whole estate team to ensure all needs were met and that any new mixtures could withstand the challenging weather recently experienced in the area.”
Initial work began with ‘boots-on-the-ground’ insight and soil sampling to give a clear view of conditions from the ground up. The decision was made to utilise Kings Poacher Maize Synergy; a popular option which benefits from direct nutrient on the seed at establishment. “Poacher Maize is known for its exceptional vigour and standing power, with the combined seed treatment giving the crop the best chance of establishing successfully,” says Meehal.
Matt and Meehal then went on to locate the most exposed crops on the estate, earmarking them for headland perennial establishment. Meehal selected a cereal-based nurse crop under sown with reed canary grass, providing up to five years of cover and acting as a valuable windbreak. “Doing this has helped to ensure we keep the agronomy programme as simple as possible which, given the scale of the plots, is very important.”
As well as reviewing the existing cover, efforts were also taken to incorporate new areas – specifically along the dale tops to provide early season holding areas and flushing points. Here, the Kings Winter Cover Mix was planted and under sown with chicory, which complements the estate’s existing herbicide plan for both pre- and post-applications. Matt comments, “Logistically, this was a great option for our farm manager, Neil, as there is no need to keep turning the sprayer on and off. Instead, he can work in blocks which is a huge benefit in terms of time and efficiency given the expanse of land he is managing for both the farm and shoot.”
The mixtures were drilled early to allow the various seed elements to flower, providing nectar and valuable feed for pollinators and farmland birds. From next season, the under sown perennial crops will go on to supply winter hardy cover which will be utilised by the keepers to hold and flush game.
Further changes were also made to the estates wild bird seed mixtures, with a move to more biennial options rather than the annual plots previously planted. As well as meeting the farm’s stewardship requirements, these mixes are improving biodiversity, reducing yearly workload and contributing to the shoot through the provision of warm cover and strong holding areas.
Speaking of the work, Matt explains, “The simple reason we use Kings is the back up and advice we receive right the way through each season – from the first site visit and establishment phase through to agronomy advice and ongoing follow-ups.
“They really do care about what they supply and the advice they provide. Of course, as with any business, things don’t always go to plan but having Kings and Meehal there with the necessary knowledge and advice is very reassuring.”
Important to the local community
As well as solutions to support the business, the ongoing work to improve the farm environment and meet sporting requirements is important for the community too. A significant local employer, the shoot secures year-round work for a large number of people covering everything from beating, loading, catering, bird breeding and keeping. Visitors are drawn from far and wide due to the high standards of operation and Raisthorpe’s overall environment, both of which are crucial to its long term success.
Matt continues, “It is about far more than just the shoot days themselves, we pride ourselves on the estate in its entirety. Our landscape, environment, stewardship efforts, game plots and dedicated team are fundamental.”
The estate serves as an excellent example of managing an extensive shooting programme in cohesion with conservation efforts and diverse business endeavours. Work continues too; with Matt and Meehal planning to integrate another round of perennial game cover to reduce the strain on spring establishment and further alleviate pressure from challenging weather events.