A farmer restor­ing wood­land bio­di­ver­sity on his shoot

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

James and Jane Mul­leneux run the 340-acre Hol­beam Wood Farm in East Sus­sex, in the beau­ti­ful rolling hills of the High Weald. The farm was once part of the neigh­bour­ing Whi­ligh Es­tate, which fa­mously sup­plied the an­cient oak for West­min­ster Hall, and came into the fam­ily in 1958 when it was bought by James’ grand­fa­ther.

The farm di­vides into 250 acres of per­ma­nent pas­ture, 50 acres of arable and 40 acres of wood­land, and the shoot­ing rights on a fur­ther 60 acres of an­cient semi-nat­u­ral wood­land. The pas­ture pro­vides fod­der for an award-win­ning herd of 50 na­tive breed Sus­sex beef cat­tle.

James was brought up with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for na­ture and is de­ter­mined to re­turn some of the wildlife that ex­isted on the farm when he was younger. He said: “I love the land and see­ing birds and but­ter­flies in sum­mer, it all goes to­gether. In the old days, we em­ployed Old Pom and all he did was fenc­ing and cut­ting and lay­ing the hedges by hand. Back then, we had six peo­ple work­ing on the farm; now, I couldn’t af­ford to em­ploy any­body full-time. The way we man­age the land­scape has changed hugely. It is man­i­cured with ma­chin­ery and I have to make a con­scious ef­fort not to cut ev­ery­thing back.”

The farm en­tered a 10-year Higher Level Stew­ard­ship agree­ment in 2009, with an em­pha­sis on the restora­tion of species-rich grass­land and na­tive wood­land. The UK has lost 97% of its tra­di­tional hay meadow, but at Hol­beam Wood the swards are main­tained at a range of heights, and dif­fer­ent grass species and wild­flow­ers have been sown in­clud­ing a mix of com­mon bent, cock’s foot, ti­mothy, crested dog’s tail, smooth meadow grass, meadow fes­cue, red fes­cue, black knap­weed and ox-eye daisy.

James added: “Some of the leys we planted look fan­tas­tic. If we leave fields to cut hay, it’s the most beau­ti­ful sight, full of in­sects and but­ter­flies. Birds like lin­nets and sky­larks have come back be­cause grass­land is al­lowed to go to seed.”

The shoot is cen­tral to the farm and brings es­sen­tial con­ser­va­tion in­gre­di­ents to the mix. It re­leases 2,800 pheas­ants in four pens, and shoots 11 days per year in­clud­ing one let day to cover costs and a beat­ers’ day. The av­er­age bag is 96. They top up the feed­ers and scat­ter feed through­out the win­ter and into the hun­gry gap, which ben­e­fits farm­land birds, and sev­eral game crops are lo­cated across the farm.

James is GWCT’s Sus­sex chair­man, and all mem­bers of the team be­long to the GWCT. When the farm and syn­di­cate bought the sport­ing rights on 60 acres of an­cient wood­land, owned by a lo­cal char­ity called Bell­hurst Na­ture Con­ser­va­tion

Trust, James asked GWCT ad­vi­sor Mike Swan how to min­imise im­pact and in­crease bio­di­ver­sity. The Bell­hurst trus­tees were aware that, if too densely stocked, wood­land in a release pen can be dam­aged by the birds.

James re­calls: “Mike sug­gested where the pen should be and we worked out the size ac­cord­ing to the Code of Good Shoot­ing Prac­tice (which is 700 birds per hectare).”

In ex­change for fire­wood, the shoot en­gages a woods­man to help coppice a new sec­tion ev­ery year. Let­ting the light back in has meant the un­der­storey of smaller plants, flow­ers and bram­bles has re­turned, pro­vid­ing habi­tat for wood­land birds and but­ter­flies.

The other key part of wood­land management is deer and preda­tor con­trol. The shoot can­not af­ford to em­ploy a full-time game­keeper, but a part-time game­keeper, Doug, and a team of stalk­ers – Steve, Gra­ham, Dave and Mike – share the work be­tween them. Last sea­son, the team ac­counted for 54 squir­rels and 14 deer, both of which can dam­age the trees and un­der­storey if not man­aged prop­erly. James be­lieves farm­ing and game management hold the key to coun­try­side restora­tion. “In the end, we have this spe­cial land­scape in Bri­tain and we must look af­ter it,” he said. “The most cost­ef­fec­tive solution is for farm­ers to do it, and we have a duty to show how we can be on the side of the an­gels.”

James Mul­leneux keeps a herd of 50 na­tive breed Sus­sex beef cat­tle

Mike Swan has ad­vised James and Jane along the way

Flower-rich mead­ows have at­tracted lots of wild birds and but­ter­flies back to the farm

Cop­pic­ing sec­tions of wood­land each year has helped the bio­di­ver­sity of this land­scape

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