Game Cover Case Study
Red House Farm, Bacton, Stowmarket
“The industry and policy is moving in a direction where farming in conjunction with creating a thriving environment can only be beneficial. To get ahead of the game, the company is adopting this mentality now, putting us in good stead for the next five to 10 years.”
– Gamekeeper, Adam Steed
For full-time PE teacher and volunteer gamekeeper, Adam Steed, conservation is at the forefront of all his work at David Black and Son in Bacton, Stowmarket. Working in his spare time to preserve and improve the wildlife across the estate, Adam has seen his efforts rewarded on a large scale, working with the Kings technical team to create a habitat for game birds to thrive.
With a passion for conservation and game management, Adam has spent the last decade overseeing a small shoot at Red House Farm – a business renowned for its large-scale arable and pig enterprise.
Under the stewardship of his father, arable farm manager Roger Steed, Adam works in the evenings, weekends and school holidays to transform the habitats across the 1,500ha estate.
“Over the years I’ve worked to maintain and improve the margins for the two wild bird shoots a year, and have a keen interest in understanding Countryside Stewardship,” says Adam.
“I’m passionate about conservation and ensuring the land supports the wider ecosystem and species which should be seen in the area.”
At the estate, the shoot isn’t the commercial priority. Adam has persuaded his father Roger to see the broader environmental benefits from experimenting with seed mixes, margin set-ups and cover crops over recent years and now has a clear understanding of what works for wild game.
“I look at how conservation will create broader environmental benefits. I do this through trailing various seed mixes, margin set-ups and cover crops to see what works.”
The company has worked with Frontier for several years and Adam benefits from the advice of Kings technical advisor Paul Brown.
“This is my passion and I perform tasks in my own time, which means any guidance I can get is greatly received,” notes Adam. “Working with Paul allows me to tap into his industry knowledge and experience whilst receiving his support on Countryside Stewardship approaches, as well as the right seed mix to suit the needs of the birds.
“With a thriving environment at the forefront of future policy, anything I can do to improve the biodiversity on the farm is a win. The farm is looking to be on the front foot in conjunction with creating a thriving environment. To get ahead of the game, we’re adapting this mentality now, putting us in good stead for the next five to 10 years.”
Adam’s enthusiasm and conservation efforts in the past decade have seen wild bird numbers soar, including the grey partridge.
“For me, seeing birds thrive in their natural habitat is the best reward. It requires years of hard work and tweaking approaches to enable them to thrive on the estate,” says Adam.
“As well as seeing more wild birds, such as barn owl and skylark, I had a goal of increasing the number of grey partridge, particularly as they’re a barometer of farmland health.
“If we have more of these on the estate, it proves the conservation efforts, such as increasing the amount of cover crops grown, adding in hedgerows and converting unproductive parts of the arable land into margins, are truly working.”
Working with FWAG, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and Kings, the company has been able to provide the optimum habitat for the grey partridge by introducing mixes which create a tall canopy as well as insect rich cover at ground level.
Paul Brown, Kings technical advisor, explains to increase bird numbers, the estate needed to provide the right breeding habitat for the birds, as well as insect rich food sources.
“The Moir Mix has various additional kale species along with linseed, fodder radish, gold of pleasure, white mustard, quinoa and Utopia, and supplies a hardy winter cover for the birds to breed. The rotation tends to be two years for the Moir Mix, followed by one year of the Campaign Mix South, ensuring we don’t have kale within plots for too many years.
“To add to this, he also grows the Interreg Autumn Sown Grey Partridge Mix, so there’s habitat for the birds all-year-round.”
In the margins, Adam explains they have created a bespoke mix in line with moving into a new Countryside Stewardship scheme.
“The blend suits the Nectar Flower Mix option (AB1) in Countryside Stewardship, by providing flowers and legumes,” explains Adam. “It contains a carefully balanced mix of various wild flower species, including sainfoin, red clover, alsike clover, lucerne, birds foot trefoil, black medick, black knapweed, musk mallow, ox-eye daisy, yarrow, teasel, and chicory.
“All of these plant species attract pollinators and protect against aerial predators, as the mix is a careful balance between giving height for protection without being too dense at ground level for small chicks to be able to move.”
Adam notes the biannual and perennial species, which were not historically used on the estate, have resulted in cost savings.
“Ultimately, the farm still needs to remain profitable. With the crops lasting several years, we’re saving on establishment costs which is a big win for the commercial aspect of the business. The work with Paul and the Kings team shows it takes time to develop the right mixes and crop rotations, but this pays off when you see the results in the new species present.”
Award-winning bird numbers
The conservation efforts at Red House Farm has resulted in over 160 wild grey partridge roaming the estate and led to Adam receiving the prestigious GWCT 2019 East Anglia Grey Partridge Award.
“This was a fantastic accolade for me and the team and showed the commitment to providing an all-year-round habitat for the species truly pays off.
“We look forward to seeing numbers increase further while attracting more wildlife to the estate.”
Click here to read more case studies.
For help and advice on how to make specialist crops work for your farm business, get the latest version of the Kings catalogue.