Rievaulx, north york­shire

A sport­ing story al­most four decades and three gen­er­a­tions in the mak­ing which is just get­ting started.

Shooting Gazette - - This Month - WORDS: MARTIN PUD­DIFER

Justin bir­kett built on his fa­ther’s foun­da­tions a shoot that ri­vals the best in this iconic sport­ing county – with his own sons now on board this shoot re­ally is reach­ing for the stars. by martin pud­difer.

For a man as busy as he is, Justin Bir­kett is re­mark­ably calm. The 49-year-old York­shire­man has a long and per­sonal con­nec­tion to the shoot on the Rievaulx Es­tate near Helm­s­ley, an ear­lier in­car­na­tion of which was once run by his late fa­ther, and one that would even­tu­ally su­per­sede his teenage am­bi­tions of at­tend­ing Sand­hurst and later join­ing the Ir­ish Guards.

By the time you come to read this, Justin will have just en­tered his 34th sea­son at Rievaulx, a par­tridge and pheas­ant shoot close to the ru­ins of the abbey de­stroyed af­ter the dis­so­lu­tion of the monas­ter­ies. Like so many in his po­si­tion, Justin first ar­rived in the job he loves “by ac­ci­dent”, though per­haps not in a way he’d have liked. Thir­ty­four sea­sons ago he was study­ing for his A-lev­els at Am­ple­forth with Sand­hurst in his sights when his fa­ther Melvin was hos­pi­talised fol­low­ing a heart at­tack. Justin left col­lege to help his mother and also be­came in­volved in the shoot, which was prob­a­bly host­ing no more than 20 days with modest bags each sea­son. By the time his fa­ther had con­va­lesced you would have thought that it was time for Justin to re-en­ter full-time ed­u­ca­tion and achieve his mil­i­tary am­bi­tions. How­ever, such was his at­tach­ment to the shoot, and doubt­less his thoughts on its po­ten­tial, he came to the con­clu­sion that the Bri­tish Army was not for him af­ter all.

A fresh start meant a com­plete clear-out at Rievaulx. Justin keep­ered the shoot him­self dur­ing his first proper sea­son, putting down and hand-feed­ing a few thou­sand birds for syn­di­cate guns and par­ties ar­riv­ing for 10 let days. The fol­low­ing year Justin took on Robert Paris, who re­mains at the shoot to this day. Johnny Ni­col­son, “a real thinker” first ar­rived 14

“It was hard work early on, es­pe­cially when try­ing to get the farm­ing com­mu­nity to ac­cept shoot­ing and col­lab­o­rate with us.”

sea­sons ago straight from school and as­sumed his cur­rent role of head­keeper in 2015.

“There was some pres­sure in those early days,” said Justin. “Dad cre­ated the foun­da­tions for the shoot to grow con­sid­er­ably. A lot of the shoots around here are owned by landed gen­try and have been for hun­dreds of years. We aren’t that lucky. We started with 60 acres near home with a fur­ther 200 acres we owned the sport­ing rights to – Rievaulx now con­trols 5,000 acres with 3,500 shot over across four beats. It just hap­pened for us. I didn’t know how long I was go­ing to do it for, to start with it was a case of needs must and I got my hands dirty. I en­joyed the keeper­ing side in those early sea­sons. It was a bit like the army in some ways, the dis­ci­pline of get­ting up ev­ery morn­ing, seven days a week, and graft­ing. If I didn’t the birds would be gone.

Com­ing to­gether...

“The big­gest chal­lenge when you’re grow­ing a shoot like this is the col­lab­o­ra­tion with the lo­cal com­mu­nity. In the early days it was hard work, es­pe­cially when try­ing to get the farm­ing com­mu­nity to ac­cept shoot­ing and col­lab­o­rate with us. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears but I took it as a per­sonal chal­lenge. Even­tu­ally we pulled ev­ery­body to­gether, and by the time I of­fi­cially took over in 2004, we achieved that to our mu­tual ben­e­fit. Things have ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions.”

| PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: BOB ATKINS

Ox­en­dale showed off not only Rievaulx’s birds but also its topography.

There is sport here for all tastes and abil­i­ties.

Crow Wood.

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