Cost of Game Shooting has soared since Downton’s days – but profits still elusive.

By Philip Bowern of the Western Morning News Posted: September 25, 2014

A shooting party at Downton Abbey, as captured in the ITV drama. The cost of shooting has soared over the years

The shooting industry puts over £2bn into the UK economy every year, with game shooting a major contributor. Yet many shoots are struggling to make the business pay.

It’s an old adage, but it still rings true on game shoots all over the Westcountry, even if the figures have dramatically increased. “Up goes ninepence, bang goes threepence, down comes half a crown”.

In the days of Downton Abbey, the cost of a pheasant, reared and released in the countryside might well have been only nine old pennies; the price of a 12-bore cartridge to shoot it just threepences and the cost, to the shooter, of his sport around two shillings and sixpence for every bird in the bag.

Now the cost of breeding and rearing a pheasant is, on average £13.76, a single cartridge about 30p, depending on the quality, and the cost, per bird, of paying for a day’s sport up to £33.58. Add VAT, payable on most shoots today, and that cost – per bird – goes up to over £40. On a 200 bird day that is £8,000 – a grand each for an eight gun team. Sounds like a lot but according to the latest shoot survey, game shoots all over the UK are still facing tough trading conditions.

Smiths Gore’s Shoot Benchmarking Survey, run in conjunction with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust relates to the 2013/14 season across the UK. It reveals that despite many shoots still operating at a loss, the majority are much more optimistic about their future.

One hundred shoots took part, accounting for 1,800 shoot days, 160 full time staff and over 800,000 birds. The sample that took part generates a turnover in excess of £7.4 million. And as Smith’s Gore says, shoots are a vital part of the rural economy and critical to the conservation management of the countryside.

Providing a suitable habitat for game birds encourages shoot owners to manage and improve the wider conservation value of their land. 69% of the shoots that took part in the survey are part of a paid agri-environment habitat improvement scheme, 14% are part of a voluntary agri-environment habitat-improvement scheme and 47% undertake work at their own cost.

Where land is managed for the benefit of shooting, many other flora and fauna will flourish. The report found that 69% of the shoots are growing areas of wild bird seed mix and a quarter have planted areas of pollen and nectar rich habitat.

But the statistics, show that shooting still has a long way to go before moving from recession recovery status to established expansion in terms of its balance sheet.

Shoots still need to keep a close eye on costs, the survey’s authors advise. “In 2013/14 saw shoots experience higher variable and fixed costs than we saw two years ago in our 2011-2012 seasonal review which has resulted in them having to increase their charges per bird to compensate.

The total cost per bird put down has gone up by over 10% to £13.76; variable costs per bird put down have gone up from £8.06 (2011/12) to £8.57 with fixed costs having escalated to £5.34 from £4.67 (2011/12).

Prices charged per bird have gone up to keep pace with rising costs as shoots try to sustain their net income, rather than to realise profit. Average prices charged per pheasant have risen by 3.7% from £32.38 (2011/12) to £33.58 + VAT and for partridges from £30.95 to £33.44 + VAT – an increase of over 8%”.

The report goes on: “Shoot economics are affected by many factors; profitable shoots charge on average more per bird and offer more let days. Profitable shoots release more birds per keeper, pay their keepers more and shoot a greater proportion of the birds which they release – 39% compared with 35% for loss making shoots.

“Despite the tough trading conditions, the mood of shoot owners and organisers is one of optimism. A net balance of 32% of shoots are more optimistic compared with last season and confirmed bookings have improved in the last 12 month period.”

Not all shoots are run on commercial lines, of course. For many, as the report acknowledges, the economics are irrelevant and thousands of small shoots, run by syndicates, are not out to make a profit. As the report concludes: “the sporting and entertainment elements are worth their weight in gold.”

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