Good year at Auchnerran despite weather and Covid challenges

The Game & Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm (GWSDF) at Auchnerran on Deeside has just published its third annual report for the year to December 31, 2021.

Lapwing hatching success on the farm has been impacted significantly by predation.
Lapwing hatching success on the farm has been impacted significantly by predation.

The report not only highlights the farming and research activities at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s farm but also publication of its financial report. Among the enterprise’s objectives are to demonstrate to practitioners, policy makers, influencers and others how a wild mixed shoot and productive farming can contribute to a net gain in natural capital in a marginal hill edge setting, as well as maintaining a profitable farming enterprise.

2021 was a tough year on several counts, not least weather and the restrictions enforced on activity through Covid-19 but even with those challenges significant steps forward were made in terms of the farm; wildlife and the environment; science and research; and the farm shoot.

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Some headline information as follows:

· The sheep flock has stabilised at just over 1400 ewes.

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· Proportion of lambs weaned was 126%.

· 600 bales of silage made (20 bales/ha average).

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· Successful shooting season given limited number of days, with total bag including 65 pheasant, 9 woodcock, 3 brown hares and 27 rabbits.

· Completion of the new visitor/education centre and staff office although visitor and educational days reduced significantly by Covid-19.

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· Exceptional weather – a cold spring and blizzards in May.

· Lapwing hatching success on the farm has been impacted significantly by predation, notably by badgers.

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· Ongoing monitoring of badger and pine marten activity with camera traps.

· Completion of the farm’s natural capital assessment, and ongoing carbon audit.

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· The business remained in profit, though reduced on last year due to fluctuations in subsidy payments.

David Noble, former GWCT Scotland Chairman, in his foreword to the Report says:

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“Unfortunately, the beginning of 2021 did not see the end of the Covid-19 pandemic and activities at Auchnerran were, once again, significantly curtailed. In particular, the opportunities for welcoming policy makers and other visitors to the farm were much reduced. On the farming front however, despite a very bad spring, it is encouraging that the lambing ratio held up well and that the financial position remained in positive territory.

“Monitoring the wildlife of the farm and maintaining our datasets is of course vital and thanks are due to the staff and to the students who, while able to devote time to their particular studies, contribute so much to this ongoing work. The shoot has had a good year and given much pleasure to those lucky enough to have taken part.”

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GWCT’s Dr Dave Parish said: “It was indeed a challenging year at the farm. Significant snowfall in May 2021 and the dry spring and summer that followed posed problems for both the farm with early lamb losses higher than normal, and perhaps some of our resident wildlife with wader numbers down slightly. This also coincided with an unexpected jump in the rate of badger predation on some of our breeding waders which contributed to a poor year for chick production. That said, farm output overall was maintained at a good level with a high lambing rate and the team has been as busy as ever.

“Auchnerran is coming out of the Covid-19 crisis stronger than ever, with significant changes underway through 2022. We have a new management structure in place and a larger team including new staff, as well as some exciting new projects.”

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Link to the 2021 annual report here.