The future of land management

Mike Powell reflects on the impact that ‘townies’ could have on the future of land management.

I suppose it was almost inevitable! Going back about a year I lost a patch of ground I had shot over for half a century when it was sold. The new people, although extremely pleasant were, to put it kindly, not true country folk. They had sold their business up country for a small fortune and, as their children had fledged, moved to Devon in search of the “good life”.

Nowadays that seems to be the norm round here. The problem is, once again putting it kindly, the vast majority of these people haven’t a clue as to what they are doing. Running a successful engineering set-up in the Midlands is no real basis for establishing a smallholding in the heart of the countryside.

Anyway, my original overtures as to whether I would be able to continue shooting over their land were met with a definite and very polite, no! They loved being able to see the local wildlife and this was going to be part and parcel of their new existence.

I always try to remain on a friendly basis when this situation arises because over the years there has always been a sameness in what happens in the future. So after my initial meeting, I left them my pest control card and we parted on good terms.

I heard nothing from them and as the ground – which was about 30 acres overall – is quite near to me I was able to keep a beady eye on what was going on. For almost twelve months this was precious little!

Then things started to happen. Earlier this year, about an acre was clearly being planted out with tree whips and some pens, which looked suspiciously like poultry runs, started to appear.

Both of these occurrences brought a small smile to my face as, unless I was totally wrong, I could almost guarantee what was going to happen. I am sure many readers will already be ahead of me!

About six weeks or so ago, I had a phone call from the friendly landowner. Before he could get into his stride, I asked how things were going and his response was, as expected, somewhat conciliatory. He said he had called for some advice, as it appeared that the pretty little deer that they saw from time to time were eating the tops off of the new whips.

Furthermore, the man who sold them the whips had told them they would be all but useless as far as future growth was concerned. He had obtained a price for fencing the area, which had somewhat shocked him, and asked if there anything I could do. By now my earlier small smile had widened into a cheesy grin as I thought over the many times this had happened before.

I arranged to go down and meet with him and his wife to discuss the problem, as they were also planning to get about three dozen point of lay pullets in. At the meeting I pointed out that it would never be my intention to remove all the wildlife that lived in the area; only those that would be causing trouble (which of course would be most of them).

A tour of the ground showed that the roe had certainly been browsing the whips which had, due to the earlier rains, put on a lot of growth. A couple of them also showed signs of being frayed by bucks as we were now into July.

I explained the close season situation and how, for the time being, we would be restricted to the bucks – but that when November arrived the roe doe numbers could also be reduced.

Next he showed me the proposed poultry set-up. Everything was nicely prepared, but I explained that due to the height of the fences – about three feet or so – they would be no obstacle to a hungry fox unless a decent electric system was put in place.

Leaving the rather stressed owner to his devices I said that he should give me a call as and when anything happened. A few days later I saw the point of lay birds were in situ but there was no sign of any electrics; so I guessed it wouldn’t be long before I had a call.

Sure enough a couple of weeks later it came, the expected fox visit had taken place – ten birds had been killed and a couple more injured. I said that he should leave everything as it was and I would come down that evening.

Arriving an hour before dark I was just in time to see the back end of a fox disappearing into the thick cover a short way away from the chicken run. Incidentally, this block of land has no house on it so when the owners leave it is totally undisturbed.

Clearly, the fox had seen me arrive so I rather doubted it would be back for some time.  The remains of the previous night’s visit were scattered around the large run and I guessed that, as there were several foxes in the neighbourhood, it wouldn’t be long before another turned up.

I was using the 17 Hornet with the PARD 007 fitted to a Hawke Endurance 5-15×50. I use the Hornet for close range fox work as I’ve found that, providing you put the bullet in the right place, foxes usually drop on the spot due to the considerable internal damage this very quick little round inflicts. It also has the advantage of being relatively quiet.

Finding a suitable spot that gave me a good all round view, and putting up my little bit of camo netting to mask my movements, I settled down to wait. When I’m out after a specific fox that’s been taking livestock, I seldom use a caller to start with, as I don’t particularly want to call in any passing foxes.

I want the one that’s been causing the problem. As a fox controller it does me no favours to produce a fox for a client only to have another raid take place the next night! I much prefer the fox to arrive of its own accord.

I generally reckon that if a fox is within a hundred yards or so of where a raid has taken place then there is a very good chance it is either the very one I’m after – or is likely to be a problem anyway.

It had been about an hour since I had seen the back end of a fox disappearing when I arrived and apart from a curious roe and a couple of rabbits nothing else had shown up. It was getting late and the light was fading fast but the PARD 007 had the ability to produce a remarkably bright picture almost till the light has completely gone.

I was just taking a look through the scope to see if I should switch to black and white and IR when I found myself looking at a large fox no more than fifty or sixty yards away. It was clear it hadn’t seen me and was making its way towards the chicken run in a very purposeful way; clearly it had been scouting the area before!

Suddenly it either caught my scent or something spooked it because it spun round and ran off. Fortunately, both foxes and rabbits have one very (for them) unfortunate habit and that is they almost always stop for a look back to see what’s happening; in this case what was happening was that a 17 Hornet round was on its way!

It was a shot I am always a little wary of taking but the job had to be done. The fox was quartering away from me and had looked back over its shoulder so the shot was aimed into its side and towards the heart region. 

As I mentioned earlier about the severe trauma these small high velocity rounds can inflict and this one was no different. The fox dropped and on inspection the damage was severe!

Entering the soft flank the bullet’s path had taken it through to the chest area but as usual had not exited. The fox was a decent sized dog and the photo was taken on its good side, as the other side was not particularly photogenic!

As is always the case, although I always do my best to ensure that the fox I’ve got is the right one; you never really know until some time has passed and no further attacks take place. I hung on for another hour but no more foxes turned up so I assumed this was probably the right one.

The next job on this land was to attend to the deer damage. Callum and I spent some time over the next week or so trying to spot a buck but they remained very elusive! Some does were there some with kids in tow, but no bucks. However, clearly there was damage being done and some of it (fraying) was being done by a buck or bucks.

Callum decided he was going to try and get one in the early morning. As my days of rising at the crack of dawn are behind me, I told him to go ahead and give me a call if he had any luck.

It would be nice to say that the phone call came and the buck (or bucks) had been dealt with, but no such luck. There were does aplenty every time we went to the ground but the bucks were nowhere to be seen. As the rut was on the verge of taking off I reckoned that would be our best chance as, with the number of does that were present, the bucks would be visible.

The third week of July started and I had a call from the owner of the land in question saying that a deer with “antlers” kept appearing even though both he and his wife were working on the land. He said they would be leaving shortly and so I decided to go there myself, at about four in the afternoon. Parking up the 4×4 I made my way up the field to a spot that I normally use when I’m waiting for foxes.

Now, I’ve never had a lot of success with the Buttolo caller but I thought I’d give it a try. To my surprise after only a couple of “pheeps” a buck appeared some eighty-odd-yards away, clearly looking for trouble! Unfortunately for him, he had found it and the 95-grain Hornady SST from my Sauer 202 found its mark; a little high but the buck dropped on the spot.

Loading it up, I took it home for the gralloch using the excellent Napier Truck Click which I have found invaluable for both roe and fallow. For the time being things were more or less under control on this piece of land, and I now had the new owner’s blessing to carry on dealing with the foxes, rabbits and deer as I saw fit.

Incidentally, whilst out after a few rabbits another buck showed up, so there is more work to be done. Some venison was passed on to the owners of the land, so once again I’m back on the patch that I’ve shot for over fifty years.

Sadly though, more and more land is being taken over by people who won’t allow shooting on their property, in this case the good people saw sense and I’m sure we will all benefit from the relationship.

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