Don’t miss this month Mil­ton Abbey

How one school in Dorset is mak­ing the most of its ex­ten­sive grounds to in­tro­duce its stu­dent body to the world of game shoot­ing and con­ser­va­tion.

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Mil­ton Abbey School in Dorset has its own shoot and pupils are learn­ing all about the coun­try­side, shoot­ing and con­ser­va­tion both in the class­room and out­doors, in­clud­ing on sev­eral shoot days they or­gan­ise them­selves.

Could you imag­ine if your old school had its own pheas­ant shoot? Mil­ton Abbey School, mid­way be­tween Bland­ford and Dorch­ester in Dorset is lucky enough to be able to say it does, and last sea­son hosted five shoot days, each one man­aged by Sixth Form pupils study­ing a BTEC in Coun­try­side Man­age­ment.

Pupils are not alone in their en­deav­ours of course, all be­ing aided and abet­ted by Fourth and Fifth Form pupils study­ing the Coun­try­side and En­vi­ron­ment BTEC, ev­ery­one un­der the ex­pe­ri­enced eye of game­keeper Kevin Hurst and other aca­demic staff. Course mod­els taught in the class­room - in­clud­ing game bird pro­duc­tion, wood­land man­age­ment, work­ing dogs and pest con­trol - come to life on the shoot through­out the year with pupils be­ing re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­thing from game bird hus­bandry and pen main­te­nance to shoot day lo­gis­tics – even down to send­ing out in­vi­ta­tions to the guns. Come shoot day, pupils can be found in the beat­ing line and show­ing other beat­ers and guns (most of­ten friends and fam­ily), the Forestry Com­mis­sion (with whom the school works on wood­land con­ser­va­tion), lo­cal landown­ers (who of­fer the shoot ac­cess to their land) and even school gover­nors a short, well-drilled shoot day.

“The Mil­ton Abbey School shoot is as much about learn­ing the ways of the coun­try­side as it is about run­ning a small shoot,” ex­plained Jack, who is study­ing a Coun­try­side and En­vi­ron­ment BTEC. “We tend to the birds whether they are hatched on site or in­tro­duced to Mil­ton Abbey as poults. We watch them grow and learn which en­vi­ron­ments they like to live in. We don’t put many birds down so we have to look af­ter what we

have care­fully so we can pro­duce as good a day’s shoot­ing for the guns as pos­si­ble. We do all of the beat­ing our­selves and have to gather the birds up af­ter the shoot to pre­pare our­selves for the next one.

“In my first year with the shoot we had bags of less than five but this year we are well up into the 20s, which is a mark of the progress we are mak­ing, not to men­tion all the work that goes on be­hind the scenes to pro­duce these days. The Sixth Form pupils ac­tu­ally get to shoot on the last day of the sea­son so I am look­ing for­ward to that next year!”

The game­keeper is a happy man too. “Af­ter many hours in the class­room our shoot days are al­ways a cas­cade of ‘eureka’ mo­ments for pupils when the­ory sud­denly be­comes re­al­ity be­fore their eyes,” ex­plained Kevin Hurst. “The rel­e­vance of habi­tat man­age­ment, re­lease pen de­sign and func­tion­al­ity, feed­ing regimes and preda­tor con­trol all be­come rel­e­vant. Ed­u­ca­tion does not get any more in­ter­ac­tive than this.”

One day in de­cem­ber…

Kevin takes up the story of a day at Mil­ton Abbey last De­cem­beré The Abbey’s Christ­mas shoot day is al­ways spe­cial. Our guests are pri­mar­ily lo­cal landown­ers who gen­er­ously al­low us to beat and stand guns on their land. Ad­di­tion­ally we had lo­cal res­i­dent Paul Amor, for­mer pupil of the school Dun­can Wal­lace, and Mr Do­minic Prince, a friend to the school, in amongst the guns.

The weather was favourable as we were still en­joy­ing the back end of the cold snap along with some light cloud cover and a mild east­erly wind, which, when com­bined, held the birds tightly on their feed­ing ground. Leav­ing the guns with Ly­dia Lee, a teacher of Coun­try­side Man­age­ment, the beat­ers de­parted to blank in the first drive, Monks Path.

The Path is a short drive that cul­mi­nates in a flush from a cover crop ad­ja­cent to the school’s health cen­tre, high on a ris­ing bank. The crop is only an acre in size but pro­vides enough cover to com­fort­ably hold 50 birds. The cold wind had pushed the birds high into small copse above the crop, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to launch them ac­cu­rately over the guns. As the top line tip­toed in be­hind the trees, as pre­dicted the pheas­ants started to de­part the wood with gusto. Some birds ran into the crop, some es­caped side­ways and some lifted and turned over the flank­ing guns, which got them off to a pos­i­tive start, tak­ing them cleanly. The few birds left were trick­led out, giv­ing most of the guns a chance to swing at some early birds.

The sec­ond and third drives, Beech Trees and then Farm, are both wood­land drives. The beat­ers dis­perse in four teams un­der my di­rec­tion to blank the woods into a col­lect­ing area. From there, the Lower Sixth Form pupils then di­rect the lines via ra­dio to walk the birds into the flush­ing points. The early birds in Beech Trees were a steady line of par­tridges that the guns dealt with ex­tremely ac­cu­rately and ef­fi­ciently.

For a shoot that only puts down pheas­ants this is in­deed a wel­come sur­prise and con­firms that the coun­try­side man­age­ment pupils must be do­ing some­thing right in terms of habi­tat and en­vi­ron­ment.

a break and a few farewells

While the guns, beat­ers and pick­ers-up were off hav­ing fun in the woods, the hospitality pupils and staff were busy pre­par­ing lunch. On com­ple­tion of Farm and af­ter a brief stop for pho­to­graphs in front of Mil­ton Abbey, ev­ery­one con­vened in the Prince’s Room for lunch. Sadly we had to bid farewell to six of the beat­ers who were rep­re­sent­ing the 1st XV in a home rugby match against a lo­cal team. The mood was ju­bi­lant dur­ing lunch and the food hearty;

“Pupils are re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­thing from game bird hus­bandry to lo­gis­tics.”

“The birds pre­sented high and strong, ris­ing into wind and giv­ing some amaz­ing sport.”

warm­ing the cock­les on a chilly day.

With more work to be done I whisked the beat­ers off straight af­ter dessert to the fi­nal drive, Coombe Plan­ta­tion, a small area of wood­land jut­ting out be­tween three fields. In the cen­tre of the wood is a re­lease pen home to some hand-reared black necks. With the beat­ing team de­pleted, the guns could hear the beat­ers tap­ing and clap­ping their way back to­wards them as they ap­proached their pegs. As the guns went live on pegs the first bird emerged from the woods - it was our res­i­dent tawny owl, glid­ing ef­fort­lessly past peg No.8, ac­com­pa­nied by the call “Owl!” from ev­ery other peg. It’s al­ways re­as­sur­ing to see birds iden­ti­fied and re­spected in this man­ner. For the record, the gun on peg No. 8 didn’t re­motely flinch, hav­ing iden­ti­fied it im­me­di­ately.

Shortly af­ter, the black necks started to rise from the trees above the guns, the first of which emerged high and fast draw­ing nine shots to fly on un­scathed at the far end, much to my sat­is­fac­tion. The birds pre­sented high and strong, ris­ing into wind and giv­ing some amaz­ing sport to guns at the end of the day.

As the shoot party re­con­vened be­hind the 1st XV’S rugby posts to bring pro­ceed­ings to a close, the bag was de­clared: 23 head for 80 shots, con­sist­ing of one pi­geon, eight par­tridge and 14 pheas­ant – a thor­oughly con­sis­tent re­turn for the sea­son. The bag at Mil­ton Abbey is de­lib­er­ately never put un­der pres­sure as the day is about so much more than that. First and fore­most the shoot ex­ists as a teach­ing aid to sup­port the Coun­try­side Man­age­ment depart­ment in de­liv­er­ing the rel­e­vant mod­ules of the BTEC cri­te­ria at the school. The at­mos­phere and pic­turesque set­ting at the school make for an ex­hil­a­rat­ing day of shoot­ing con­ducted as pre­cisely as any com­mer­cial shoot in the coun­try, al­beit scaled down sig­nif­i­cantly. Tra­di­tion and cor­rect eti­quette is re­in­forced at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity but more im­por­tantly, ev­ery­one en­joys their day and the com­pany of like­minded peo­ple. Many of the guests chose to see the day out watch­ing the 1st XV play out the re­main­der of their match be­fore de­part­ing on their home­ward jour­neys.

mil­ton abbey pupil Jack with his prize.

Mark Warn, from the Forestry Com­mis­sion, and his daugh­ter, Char­lotte.

Game­keeper Kevin Hurst briefs the beat­ers ahead of the shoot.

Mil­ton Abbey is em­braced by 500 acres of grounds de­signed by Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown.

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