Marches mael­strom

A snow­storm at Old Long Moun­tain shoot near Welshpool chal­lenged the guns – though the birds were made of sterner stuff

The Field - - Contents - writ­ten BY janet men­zies ♦ pho­tog­ra­phy BY an­drea mof­fatt

Snow chal­lenged guns at Old Long Moun­tain, as Janet Men­zies re­ports

What­ever cli­mate change de­niers may say, the cli­mate has most def­i­nitely been ex­tremely change­able lately. Last sum­mer’s heat­wave fol­lowed a win­ter that was as white as a Dick­en­sian Christ­mas card. How­ever, some pheas­ants are very much at home in snows­capes, so while I was trapped in a drift on the M6, the birds at Old Long Moun­tain shoot near Welshpool, in the Marches, flew very hap­pily.

Ger­wyn Jones’s rov­ing syn­di­cate, with mem­bers com­ing from all over the coun­try, had wisely de­cided to stay up the night be­fore. Jones says: “It was lucky that every­body had come up be­fore the snow hit. The snow started to come down just as we were be­gin­ning the first drive and it wasn’t really enough at that stage to make it dif­fi­cult. Then, by the sec­ond drive, it was heavy. Most of us were equipped with 4x4s with off-road tyres but ev­ery­one kept a good dis­tance from Left: Daryl Ewer on Par­adise drive, where snow fell hard Above: pick­ing a high bird through the snow shower the ve­hi­cle in front and all went ok. Usu­ally birds don’t fly well when it first snows, as they can’t see where they are fly­ing to. They will of­ten hover aim­lessly as they do in fog but af­ter they have had a day to get used to it they’ll fly as per nor­mal with snow on the ground.”

With the Bri­tish trans­port sys­tem seem­ingly in­ca­pable of deal­ing with ex­treme weather con­di­tions, many shoot man­agers have to think twice when a storm sets in. But the pheas­ants reared by shoot man­ager An­thony Pryce are made of sterner stuff. “The snow did present a chal­lenge in the morn­ing, but ev­ery­thing went very smoothly and it was quite ex­cit­ing,” he ex­plains. “We have got our own game farms and we rear Manchurian-cross pheas­ant, which work well on that shoot. They are a strong-fly­ing bird and rear­ing them our­selves is a big ad­van­tage. We make sure they are old enough and get them out plenty early to be ma­ture from the start of the sea­son. It means that if harder weather does come in De­cem­ber and Jan­uary they are eas­ily able to cope.”

Pryce set up Cam­brian Birds with busi­ness part­ner Gerry Jack­son in Fe­bru­ary 2015 and they now have

three shoots: Old Long Moun­tain, Sweet Lamb and The Ridge­way. Ac­cord­ing to Pryce, all three of­fer dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics, with Old Long Moun­tain of­fer­ing some tall birds. “The ter­rain is very steep with tight val­leys. Old Long Moun­tain had been go­ing for about 30 years and we took it on just over a year ago and de­vel­oped it from the ex­ist­ing base.”

The shoot is famed for some par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing drives, in­clud­ing Trin­ity Wells, The Beaches and Par­adise – and it was on Par­adise drive that the snow really be­gan to fall on the Jones team of guns. Jones says: “Par­adise is one of the orig­i­nal high-bird drives in Mid Wales and has been talked about for years. It is a deep val­ley with a wood on the top. The birds are flushed out of the wood and over a road and they head straight over the guns, who are pegged in grass fields at a height of around 50yd and much higher. I man­aged to con­nect with half-a-dozen huge birds on the Par­adise drive. I was us­ing Eley Al­phamax car­tridges and these really are game chang­ers. On that sec­ond drive, Par­adise, they were 60yd or 70yd up and it didn’t seem to make any dif­fer­ence to the birds but, of course, for us it was hard to see them through the bliz­zard.

“The ma­jor­ity of the birds did favour the far left of the line and came over Gerry Jack­son, who is an in­vestor in the shoot. Most of the team shoot to­gether reg­u­larly on grouse and pheas­ants. I or­gan­ise a few days, and so do one or two oth­ers in the team. We have a nu­cleus of about 30 peo­ple who we shoot with through­out the sea­son.”

BLUE SKIES

The weather cleared when we shot the third drive, of­fer­ing stun­ning blue skies, with a back­drop look­ing over Powis Cas­tle in the dis­tance and farther into Wales. The birds ac­tu­ally dis­ap­peared into the snow when they hit the ground and it was great to see the dogs shov­ing their heads be­neath the white stuff to re­trieve. My cocker and a lot of oth­ers were cov­ered in snow balls, which stuck to their long fur. This drive was from a cover plot and a wood on top of a hill. You would think that birds would sim­ply fol­low the con­tours and dive, but they got on their tales and soared into the blue sky shin­ing like di­a­monds. It snowed again as we left this drive and the sky turned black as a large storm ap­proached. So we did the last drive in a wood un­der­neath some clear fell where again we had plenty of archangels over us.

“Over­all we were ac­tu­ally sur­prised by how well the birds flew. They just seemed to power through it. By the third drive it had cleared a bit and was beau­ti­ful. When we got into the woods it started to snow again, but we got some shel­ter with the trees. If any­thing the snow just added to our en­joy­ment of the day. The scenery was so beau­ti­ful and the birds flew really well. And then, of course, we were all driv­ing home af­ter the snow think­ing how lucky we had been to have a great day.”

From Pryce’s point of view, this is more the prod­uct of long ex­pe­ri­ence and plan­ning than just luck. Pryce has been in­volved with game from the age of 15. He started off as an un­der­keeper, work­ing his way up to head keeper at Kemp­ton in south Shrop­shire. He then over­saw and con­tin­ued to grow the UK’S largest game farm as well as de­vel­op­ing and main­tain­ing sev­eral renowned sport­ing es­tates in Mid Wales and the West­coun­try. Run­ning his own shoots was the ob­vi­ous de­vel­op­ment for Pryce.

“When we started Cam­brian Birds in 2015 I had been work­ing for a big com­pany and wanted to do this project. We started small and have grown over the three years. The first shoot we took on was Sweet Lamb, and it wasn’t really a fully driven shoot. It was a farm­ers’ syn­di­cate and we turned it into a full-scale shoot. Old Long Moun­tain had been go­ing for about 30 years when we took it on just over a year ago and de­vel­oped it from the ex­ist­ing base.

“Sweet Lamb is a dif­fer­ent type of shoot – it is very moun­tain­ous with wide-open hill­sides, and the es­tate is about five-and-ahalf thou­sand acres in a sin­gle pri­vate block with no roads or foot­paths. This makes it an un­usual shoot, even by Welsh stan­dards. It really works to our ad­van­tage as a shoot. Our third shoot in the port­fo­lio that we have cre­ated is The Ridge­way, which is dif­fer­ent again. It has wider val­leys flanked with big bracken banks.”

Cre­at­ing a shoot more or less from grass­roots is the pipe dream of many a com­mit­ted driven shot. Plan­ning the ideal drive is a guar­an­teed ice-breaker to get the con­ver­sa­tion started at the post-shoot din­ner,

We were sur­prised how well the birds flew. They just seemed to power through it

as guns se­lect a mash-up of Ex­moor flush­ing points, Mid­lands cover crops with Welsh scenery – and Scot­tish hos­pi­tal­ity. Mean­while, those lucky enough to be run­ning a fam­ily or lo­cal syn­di­cate shoot are con­stantly tin­ker­ing with the drives in the fond hope of get­ting the Oak Wood to go bet­ter than it did in grand­fa­ther’s day. Not many have the op­por­tu­nity Pryce has cre­ated of build­ing three shoots al­most from scratch.

How­ever, it is The Ridge­way that is really Pryce’s baby. He started to piece to­gether the shoot the sum­mer af­ter found­ing Cam­brian Birds. The Ridge­way sits on the bor­der of Eng­land and Wales, near Bishop’s Cas­tle, and now has all the mak­ings of a good pheas­ant and par­tridge shoot. Pryce de­scribes the steep-sided deep val­leys, nar­row gul­lies and acres of wood­land that in­spired him to cre­ate the shoot. “This ter­rain makes us all very ex­cited about the po­ten­tial this shoot has mov­ing for­wards,” says Pryce. “The feel you get from The Ridge­way is noth­ing short of magic, and when stood in the val­ley bot­toms look­ing up at the drives it’s hard to imag­ine any­where bet­ter.”

Pryce makes it sound idyl­lic but cre­at­ing a com­mer­cial driven shoot like those of­fered by Cam­brian is a very dif­fer­ent story from get­ting a few friends to­gether and hedge bash­ing a cou­ple of lo­cal farms – sat­is­fy­ing though that can be on Box­ing Day. A com­mer­cial shoot re­lies on good in­fra­struc­ture and sup­port from the wider lo­cal com­mu­nity so that on snowy days like that en­coun­tered by the Jones team, ev­ery­thing goes just as smoothly as ever. It’s im­por­tant to be able to get hold of plenty of will­ing beat­ers and pick­ers-up who won’t let you down. Pryce hasn’t found this to be a prob­lem so far. “Even though the area is com­par­a­tively re­mote we are quite close to Welshpool so we are able to at­tract plenty of beat­ers and pick­ers-up to come on our shoots. We shoot two or three let days a week on each shoot, so the sea­son is a busy time. It is a lot to man­age, but very re­ward­ing.”

Per­fect plan­ning still isn’t quite enough, how­ever. There is an imag­i­na­tive el­e­ment in build­ing a shoot that can’t be pinned down, no mat­ter how many BASC or Game and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Trust man­u­als you read. Pryce thinks it is a com­bi­na­tion of in­stinct and ex­pe­ri­ence. He ex­plains: “De­vel­op­ing new shoots is cer­tainly a chal­lenge but I have about 25 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in shoots and it gives you a knowl­edge of what is pos­si­ble and how to achieve it. When you are cre­at­ing or de­vel­op­ing a drive, of course you look at it from a tech­ni­cal point of view but really, when it comes down to it, you just have an in­stinc­tive idea of what is go­ing to work. And in the end noth­ing beats just giv­ing it a try and find­ing out.

“Some­times it can sur­prise you, when a drive doesn’t be­have the way you thought it would. Some­times it doesn’t work de­spite all your plans but at other times it to­tally ex­ceeds your ex­pec­ta­tions. We have some drives at Sweet Lamb like that where the birds fly amaz­ingly well. And you de­velop ev­ery sea­son, re­fin­ing it and build­ing on the pre­vi­ous sea­son. Our aim is to get these shoots right to the top of the league of Welsh driven shoots.”

If the snowy ex­pe­ri­ence of Jones and his fel­low guns is any­thing to go by, Pryce’s Cam­brian Birds shoots are well on their way to achiev­ing his am­bi­tions.

For more in­for­ma­tion about Old Long Moun­tain, Sweet Lamb and The Ridge­way, call An­thony Pryce on 07807 553059 or visit www.cam­bri­an­birds.co.uk

When cre­at­ing a drive, you just have an in­stinc­tive idea of what is go­ing to work

Far left: Char­lie Bellm aims through snow-clad branches on Clear­fell drive. Left: Ger­wyn Jones, whose rov­ing syn­di­cate took the day. Left, be­low: the sky bright­ened for guns on Geth­ley Din­gle drive

Far left: Ger­wyn Jones sur­veys a win­tery Par­adise Above: re­triev­ing one of the Manchurian-cross pheas­ants on Geth­ley Din­gle driveLeft: Gerry Jack­son looks sky­wards onAp­ple Trees drive

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