Traditional country pursuits reimagined for the modern world
We visit the ambitious young team at Forthampton that's given the estate's historic shoot an overhaul.
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Nestled on the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire border near the historic market town of Tewkesbury, Forthampton estate is a 3,000-acre Cotswolds playground that showcases supersonic partridge and cloud-clipping pheasant.
For the past two seasons, the shoot has been run by 30-year-old Adam Gwillam and his fiancée Clare. “We are very much a family-run shoot, and I think that shows in the seamless orchestration of the days. My parents are a constant source of support - Alan can regularly be found loading on shoot days at the estate and Julie is an integral part of the picking up team. We are from good gamekeeping stock - my grandfather Michael Fitzer was a beatkeeper at Dumbleton Hall, headkeeper at Charlton Abbotts and finished his career at Madresfield in the mid-90s. My uncle Mark Fitzer is currently headkeeper at Holkham.
The gamekeeping team at Forthampton is young and eager with 25-year-old Bryce Clarke working as headkeeper and 22-year-old Sam Dean acting as beatkeeper. “They are both exceptionally hardworking, consciousness young men,” reveals Adam, adding: “Shooting is in our blood. We live, eat, breathe shooting. It is what drives us.”
As well as Forthampton, Adam runs the shooting at Hadley in Worcestershire and more recently acquired the Haie in Gloucestershire for this coming season 2021/22, all run through Hadley Game & Sporting which was established in 2013. In total, he runs over 80 shoot days across the three venues. “They are commercial shoots with a Saturday syndicate feel,” he explains, adding: “New Guns arrive as clients, but always leave as friends.”
The estate itself is steeped in history with the court originating as the medieval residence of the Abbots of Tewkesbury from the mid-12th to mid-16th centuries. The estate has been in the Yorke family since the 17th century and is currently home to John Sarne Yorke, a keen shooter. Now 83 years old, John has been very impressed by Adam and his team. “He is a remarkably good, convivial host. It clearly comes naturally to him,” he observed. John used to have an antique shop on Bond Street and ran the shoot himself for 30 years until an administrative error saw a team of Guns arrive for a day’s sport only to find that their booking was not in the diary. “It was hugely embarrassing. We were between secretaries at the time, which was why it happened, but I realised that the time had come to find a tenant to take it over.”
An early adopter of the British Game Alliance’s Accredited Member scheme, the shoot was audited last year. “Other than buying in a few partridges from Cambrian Birds in Shropshire, we are totally self-sufficient when it comes to rearing game and produce our own Kansas blue-back cross Bazanty pheasants. I want all my shoots to tick every possible box and be a shining example of conduct. With shooting under so much scrutiny, I believe we need to be seen to do everything possible. The birds that are shot are either sent to Peterborough Game (an accredited BGA game dealer), taken by Guns or used to make elevenses and lunch. Every single bird is used, nothing is wasted. My mother makes the most amazing partridge pies and game-based elevenses including pork and pheasant sausage rolls, scotch eggs and partridge and pheasant goujons.
One of the unique features of Forthampton shoot is the safari-style lodge that is used for all hospitality. A significant investment by Adam, it proved its worth last season when socially distanced shooting was allowed. We were able to open up the long side of the tent so that the Guns were still under cover but had plenty of fresh air flowing through,” said Adam. “The lodge works so well as it means Guns can stay as long as they like after lunch has finished.
As well as the 15 beaters, there’s an all-female picking-up team of five each with five gundogs, one of which is John’s wife Julia and her yellow labrador. Professional gundog trainer Ben Randall sometimes picks-up there too as the one token male on the team. Ben speaks very highly of Adam and the shoot: “I first met Adam five years ago when he was shoot host at Glanusk and I was a Gun. He has a real talent for foresight when it comes to placing out Guns on a drive. I found him to be a very impressive individual with fresh ideas with a dynamic young team around him. When I heard that he’d taken on Forthampton, which is just 25 minutes from me, I reached out to him. The picking-up team is headed up by Jade Tranter (Bryce’s partner), who normally has a baby strapped to her back while working a pack of spaniels. The dog work here is very tight which is why the shoot works so well and delivers such consistent birds. They take their job very seriously and are exceptionally diligent about retrieving every last fallen bird. In fact, I would go as far as saying it is a masterclass in picking-up. It is done by the book. All the dogs have drying coats and are treated like royalty. A lot of emphasis is put on picking-up, which is right and proper.”
In total, there are 33 let days at Forthampton offering shooting over 15 drives. Two of our best drives are mixed pheasant and partridge drives these being Thistles and Dark Arches – the birds come from cover blocks planted behind tree lines/ woodland with the Guns pegged out in open grassland and the birds targeting the woods behind, producing some superb mixed sport.
Mitre and Palmers Hill are predominantly partridge drives and show some very fast curling partridges from strategically placed cover crops, the introduction of more partridge to the estate has completely the quality we are able to show.
More predominant pheasant drives would be Cabin, Orchard and rough Bank, The Cabin and Orchard derive from the same piece of hanging woodland that runs along a steep ridge which dominates the landscape at the centre of the estate, these two drives certainly show the highest birds on the estate and can be some spectacle on a late November/December day when the leaf has properly dropped from the woodland. Rough Bank is a very pretty drive located in parkland back towards the main house, here we fly pheasants from a cover crop on bank, back across parkland to the woods behind it’s a classic drive and a lovely place to stand for visiting guns. “It doesn’t matter how good you think you are at shooting, there will be birds here to test you. Birds appear from a multitude of angles,” explains Adam.
This young team is clearly going places and are one to watch. This generation of shooting tenants and gamekeepers are clearly wanting to uphold standards and present the pastime in the best possible light. Well worth a look.
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