There’s been a lot of talk about climate change and its effects on the hunting season recently, but what do you think? We spoke to David Whitby, head gamekeeper at The Leconfield Estates in West Sussex, to get his thoughts.
What are the major problems you’ve faced as a result of climate change?
From our point of view, one of the big problems as a woodland shoot is the retention of a leafy canopy almost up to December. Most of the leaf stays on much later and as a result, very few people are shooting pheasants in October.
We have adjusted to this by moving the start of our pheasant shoots back in order to cope with leaf retention and increasingly warm October days. Our climate seems to have moved from four seasons to two, and extreme weather is often the case.
We’re seeing days of torrential rain, gale force winds and 18 degrees of heat in late November. Despite the obvious changes, we still have to finish our season on February 1st, just as the weather becomes more favourable.
How has the pheasant shooting season been affected?
There is less demand for early season pheasant shooting. The season starts on October 1st, but increasingly most shoots do not commence until mid or late October. For many, pheasant shooting is not really coming to the fore until November.
What challenges does this pose to you as head gamekeeper?
When we lose around a month in the shooting calendar and we plan one shoot a week, that’s around four shoots we’re not putting on. As a result, we are being forced to either hold fewer days or have less of a break between days, giving game less time to return and settle.
In what way have environmental changes affected the behaviour of the birds?
High atmospheric pressure is simply a disaster for gamekeepers. On days of high pressure, birds do not fly well, are low and unsporting. This is increasingly evident during the early part of the season when bright sunny days are much in evidence.
Shooting is very much weather dependent. Torrential rain, high atmospheric pressure and gale force winds can all spoil a shoot. All the work, effort, organising and expense means nothing if we have unfavourable weather.
Which birds would you say have been impacted the most by climate change?
Partridges and pheasants have definitely been affected, but then the wildfowlers and grouse keepers will no doubt have similar concerns. People prefer to go out and shoot in cold, crisp and breezy weather – not bright sunshine or torrential rain.
What measures do you think could be taken to prevent climate change damaging the shooting seasons more?
Move the shooting seasons. As a sport, we are not responding to climate change in the way that we should be. There seems to be little acknowledgement that the best days for shooting are moving later and later into the season and increasingly occurring in February.