The outlook for the new shooting season is bright and Covid has failed to dampen the enthusiasm for fieldsports.

That’s according to the latest Savills and Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) game and conservation benchmarking survey, where 80 per cent of shoot owners expressed optimism for this season – the highest in three years.

Despite this, long-term prospects were lower, with only 45 per cent of shoot managers hopeful for driven shooting longer term. Conservation and sustainability are the key to a successful future say respondents, with self-regulation and unified stakeholders also important.

There was clear support for understanding more about good shoot management, with those taking the GWCT’s shoot operator test up by over 50 per cent on last year and Big Farmland Bird Count participation up from 20 to 33 per cent.

The amount of conservation work already taken across the participating shoots is on an impressive scale. More than two thirds of shoots undertake self-funded environmental work, including 93 per cent who have established wild bird seed mixes, 64 per cent establishing insect-friendly pollen and nectar mixes and almost half implementing conservation headlands.

Before the survey, researchers feared that the pandemic might have impacted this vital habitat management but more shoots reported an increase in activity (11 per cent) than a decrease (four per cent).

One area in which Covid restrictions had a clear impact was in the numbers of birds released. Just over a tenth of shoots opted to release no birds for the 2020/21 season.

Paul Hutchinson, Savills’ director, said: “It’s clear following the disruption last year, shoots have taken confidence from the rollout of the vaccination programme when planning for the 2021/22 season.

“Importantly, there is now wholesale acknowledgement that conservation and sustainability are key components for successful shoot management and actions to deliver are now high up the agenda.”

With a voluntary phasing out of lead shot agreed by all leading sporting organisations, 85 per cent of participating shoots said they had a plan in place to phase out the use of lead by 2025, with the majority looking to do so by 2023. This is in addition to the three per cent who have already done so.

Action has also been taken on the use of plastic wads, with 83 per cent already not allowing their use and all but 2tewo per cent of respondents planning to phase them out.

Roger Draycott, GWCT Director of Advisory and Education, adde: “In this survey, we were keen to understand the impact of the Covid pandemic on the environmental aspects of running a shoot. It is heartening to see that, despite many shoots scaling back on shoot days and numbers released last year, shoots continued to provide and manage habitats for gamebirds with knock-on benefits for other wildlife.”