North Lodge Farm – Nottinghamshire
Mike Barnes looks at how, in nine years, Chris Butterfield has created a first class shoot in Nottinghamshire.
Standing amid all that goes into a proper country fair, I raised my gaze to the distance. It was apparent that this was a farm with a story to tell. The fair itself gave a good hint of what the organisers were about as the stalls mirrored their interests. Not the usual tat on display, but a sunny day out for kindred sporting spirits in summer garb.
Moreover, a wander to the fair's perimeter where have-a-go clays (not of a competitive nature) were on offer, a keen eye would observe flourishing field margins and a wealth of tree planting. Make no mistake, Widmerpool's North Lodge Farm can lay claim to being a classic 1,000-acre farm with a major nod to game and conservation.
The fair was one of three events during a single week organised by Chris and Julia Butterfield that raised £100,000. It was a one-off, they stressed: “We just wanted to do something of a charitable nature,” said Julia. “And here we are!” She laughed, barely able to believe the success of the occasion. “We have been lucky with the weather, and it has been a terrific team effort. Everyone has been great.”
The GWCT was a major beneficiary of the money raised. Chatting to Chris, it was clear that this was a couple who really do care, and have poured energy and effort into transforming this slice of rolling Nottinghamshire countryside. So, I made a mental note to return to find out more.
Four months later I found myself bringing my car to a halt in front of their delightful farmhouse home at the heart of the estate. The owner could not have made me more welcome, introducing me to the guest team of Guns. Yes, it was a shoot day and I was to see it (and photograph it) in action.
I knew three of the eight Guns – Sir Edward Nall, who has been a stalwart supporter of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Richard Beeby (who I met on a Fathers & Sons day at Buckminster) and Tim Furbank of Oakbank (suppliers of game cover and advice). The remainder were mostly farming/shooting pals.
Chris is clearly passionate about the place and has shown a capacity for creativity in the way he has mined its potential. He explains: “The overriding objective has been to create a compact 1,000-acre estate in a single block which is our home and which integrates conservation HLS/ELS/voluntary options, planting, ponds, scrapes, habitat, predator control, game covers, 40 acres of woodland, over-winter feeding, recreation (walking, shooting, wildlife) and business (farming and livery). Livery is an operation for up to 50 horses including over-winter polo ponies.
Not surprisingly, North Lodge was one of the winners of the 2014 NFU Nottinghamshire Farm Environment Awards.
And yet the owner is a chartered accountant who has spent the last 25 years working in residential property investment. “We started farming nine years ago. We have three children who all love the countryside and shoot and stalk. Our sons James and Mark live in London, while Anna is in Botswana and has a safari business in the Okavango Delta.” Separately, the family co-owns a 22-bed safari lodge in Eastern Botswana, on the Limpopo River.
Chris is not from a shooting background. “My introduction to the sport came from my in-laws. I married into a Lincolnshire farming family who have a first class shoot and are good Shots. Soon after we were married, I took it up, and loved it.”
He had always wanted to farm, so owning his own shoot was perhaps inevitable. He started with 750 acres in 2008, and added a further 250 acres in 2010. Somewhat fortuitously, the latter parcel was on North Lodge's boundary. Perfect!
All the shooting was taken in-hand. And so began the transformation involving the planting of 5,000 trees and 25 acres of game cover. It could be argued that the final piece of the jigsaw was the arrival 18 months ago of headkeeper Matt Tipping, formerly of Place Newton, a good commercial shoot in Yorkshire.
“Matt was a real find. He has been able to use his considerable gamekeepering skills, as opposed to being restricted to oiling the wheels of a heavy shoot programme.” Already he has upped the count of grey partridges to 11 coveys.
Unlike Yorkshire, there are no steep valleys so drives have been created to make best possible use of what gradient there is. They have also experimented with several strains of pheasant in search of good fliers that won't stray – Japanese crosses, ringneck and blackneck, bazanty, and Michigan bluebacks.
Going from drive to drive it was possible to see for myself the nurturing of the farm and shoot at first hand, a shoot in its stride. Well presented game, in attractive settings, and some excellent shooting, too. Not forgetting a very good lunch.
Full marks to the Butterfields and North Lodge – it was all as I suspected it might be. And more besides. As I looked through my Canon lens, I could see an awful lot of smiles, both in front of the shooting line, and behind the scenes.
This was the third of 10 days – there's lots to look forward to.
The 25 acres of game cover are as follows:
For shelter and feed value: annual maize and dwarf sorghum, perennial millet. Five year rotation: chicory, canary grass and yellow blossom clover.
For brood cover: buckwheat, chicory, camelina, fodder radish, quinoa, mustard, and forage rape.
Wild bird/tree sparrow mixes: triticale, red/white millet, quinoa included in HLS/ELS options.
Chris Butterfield, Tom Barton, Nigel Baxter, Richard Beeby, Sam Coates, Tim Furbank, Sir Edward Nall & Andrew Woodhouse.
228 pheasants, 53 redleg partridges.