As a Sporting Agency who have been involved in the letting of Shooting for over 40 years, we thought that we had come across most of the complexities to do with letting shooting throughout the UK and abroad. This included the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001. However, the current Pandemic has added a whole new dimension to life!
When it became clear in March that Coronavirus Virus was here for at least quite a long time, Shoots seem to have followed one of three different courses of action. The first, which quite a lot of the bigger commercial operators adopted, was to mothball their shoot for the coming season. In our experience, very few of these have made their Keepers redundant. They have just decided not to put any birds down and as a result, not to let any days. These Shoots are hoping to start afresh for the 2021/2022 season and the Keepers are doing woodland work or Estate maintenance, in the interim.
The second course of action has been to reduce the scale of the Shoot, and this seems to particularly be the case where this is a mixed family/commercial Shoot. What mostly seems to have happened in these instances, is a reduction in the number of birds being put down and hence the number of let days. Some shooting will still occur, but not on the scale that it would otherwise have been.
The final option, which again has been adopted by both commercial and family Shoots, is to continue much as they have done in previous years, putting down the same number of birds, with the intention of having the same number of days shooting as before.
Given the overall reduction in the number of birds being put down (and several Game Farms have completely closed down this year) and as a result, the amount of shooting available to rent, then if there are no restrictions come September, those Low Ground Shoots with days still to let, will probably do very well. Indeed, we are now experiencing a renewed interest from people wanting to rent days shooting, as they start to emerge out of their self-isolation.
In terms of Grouse, then the picture is a little murkier. Where contracts have been signed and deposits paid, in theory life will go on as before (grouse stocks depending!). Where this has not happened (maybe 50% of the let days), we have seen an almost total withdrawal by the Americans in particular, but also by many Continentals, willing to come to the UK this season to shoot Grouse. The announcement of 14 days quarantine has certainly not helped! Estates have been trying in an incredibly challenging market, to let the early and hence usually bigger and more expensive days, which overseas Sportsmen quite often rent, but which this year, they are not in the market for. Not everywhere will have this problem, and many Moors with less ambitious plans, have got their Tenants committed. We are now seeing renewed interest from UK teams, for Grouse Shooting for the coming season and we will shortly be issuing out pre-season update, now that a good number of the grouse counts have been completed. However, (and this also applies to Low Ground Shoots), it is the contract terms and particularly how protected is the Tenant’s position relating to what happens to the deposit they have already paid, which is causing concern. We are firmly of the view that it is imperative for shoots to only let shooting if they can guarantee a very clear, agreeable and achievable COVID-19 refund policy, because if those days cannot go ahead due to Government restrictions, the Tenant and shoot must be comfortable with the outcome of the deposit payment. Letting shooting is a commercial operation and it is, for example, difficult to imagine any other commercial operator, being able to get away with such a non-performance, but still keeping a significant part of the purchase monies.
We remain concerned as to whether or not it will be possible with Social Distancing, for driven Grouse Shooting in particular to start in August, but also for early Partridge Shooting. We are confident that driven shooting should be able to take place at some stage during the coming season. The main difficulty we see as Managers of a number of Shoots in both England and Scotland, remains with ensuring that the Estate/Shoot are able to rigorously enforce Social Distancing, particularly for Beaters and to make sure that by so doing, the operating entity is protected from any subsequent claims. We also need to make sure that what we do, is seen to be socially acceptable, particularly if other sporting activities are still being curtailed. We see that as a particular sting in the tail, which our opponents will be keen to latch onto. The good news is that both the Scottish and English Government now seem keen to allow more normal activities to take place in an unfurling programme, and we still have time before August 12th. We are therefore not despondent but cautiously optimistic. We have however, been working on our back up plans in the eventuality of driven shooting not being able to take place in the early parts of the season. We do not see walked up shooting potentially being in anything like the same difficult position. Interestingly, we have spent a good deal of time over the last year or so, looking at the commercial viability of many Shoots up and down the Country. We think that what is going to happen to the economy and hence to some of the demand for expensive Game shooting post the Pandemic, is even more going to call into question the viability of many Shoots. One of the advantages of many years operating, is to look back on the phenomenal changes we have had in the development of driven Game shooting over the past 30-40 years. Shortly before we started letting shooting most Shoots were run either as completely private entities or as syndicates. Commercial shooting in the main developed in the late 70’s and 80’s and has continued at a pace since, so that there are now very few entirely private Shoots. We believe that going forwards there could well be, at least in part, some reversion away from this “recent” trend and smaller scale shooting could well reoccur. This might be regarded by some as a potential benefit from our recent experiences. We have a number of different templates which our Clients are now using to look at their own Shoots. Instead of trying to derive income from operating their own commercial or mainly commercial Shoots, they are considering the alternatives. Whilst still retaining Game shooting on their Farms and Estates, these may be in a less intensive format and possibly not run in hand.
If you would like to discuss shoot management further or wish to establish our current availability please do not hesitate to email us on email@example.com or call us on 01295 661033.