Saving the Englishmen

Shooting Times & Country|June 24, 2020

Saving the Englishmen
In a bid to protect his linseed crop and a cherished pair of grey partridges, Simon Garnham sets out his decoys and gets to work
Simon Garnham

Once, when I suggested a family member was being too pessimistic, she retorted that at least she’d either be right or pleasantly surprised. I suspect the words weren’t of her own coinage. But the phrase came to mind last week when I was decoying over a field of linseed. It was one of those outings that don’t seem very promising at the outset but turn into cracking sport. You know the sort I’m sure: an evening flight where the weather’s warm but duck are on the move all the same; the walked-up, end-of-season rough day for “just a couple”, where it turns out that there are lots of birds still to be hunted out.

We’re growing linseed as the farm’s break crop this summer, which is a change from our normal sugar beet. Although linseed doesn’t make as much per acre as sugar beet (roughly £165/acre for linseed compared to £300/acre for sugar beet) it leaves the soil in a much better state. It’s a simple March-to-September crop. A late summer linseed harvest is a more appealing prospect than the battle to get the sugar beet out of the ground right in the middle of the shooting season. Beet can leave fields looking like a World War I battle site. Obviously, beet is a better holding crop for gamebirds but my memory of past years was the trade-off that linseed offered good decoying.

So, I was a little disappointed during the spring lockdown to note that pigeons were showing only limited interest in the emerging green shoots. Of course, this should have been positive news; we’re aiming for the plants to get established as quickly as possible. The ideal crop fills the canopy fast, thereby keeping down broadleaf and grass weeds. Some birds seemed lazy to be nibbling at the new growth and corvids drifted around. But the large numbers I had remembered in previous years were missing. Perhaps it’s because it’s a spring-sown variety I mused; maybe I was remembering shooting over a winter crop. Whatever the reason, I lugged out decoys and cut a hide into the hedge line near my new pond with little optimism that I’d see more than a few fleeting opportunities. At the moment one peck equals one plant, I told myself. Worth a look just on the off-chance.

Little Englishmen

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June 24, 2020