When it comes to recognising and celebrating how shooting champions the thriving habitats and countryside we’re lucky enough to have in the UK, the Purdey Awards for Game and Conservation have been setting the bar for the past 24 years. The Awards were first founded by Laurent-Perrier in 1986, before Purdey picked up the baton in 1999; and the judges bring a wealth of shooting expertise to the table.
Fast-forward to 2023 and the most recent Awards ceremony, held one evening in early February at Audley House. Guests, shortlisted estates and press awaited the final announcement with a glass of Laurent-Perrier in hand, and, as the judges recognised, this year’s entrants were all extraordinarily compelling in their own right. The top three places were awarded to the Great Lemhill & Greenhill Estate in Gloucester, Godmersham Park in Kent and Rottal Lodge in Kirriemuir, Scotland. A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Mr Julian Fenwick, in recognition of his family's work at the Lynlloedd Shoot. And, Bayfield Hill Estate was additionally recognised, to support their long term plans for the shoot.
For an insight into the Awards, we spoke to one of the judges Jonathan Kennedy. Kennedy has been on the panel for over 20 years, joining around the same time he co-founded his company CKD Property Advisers, where he works at the sharp end of buying and selling premium rural properties, making good use of his extensive knowledge of grouse moors, sporting and country estates.
His love for the British countryside started early, growing up on the Scottish estate his father managed for the Duke of Buccleuch. “In the school holidays there was nothing else to do apart from shoot and fish – it was heaven!” says Kennedy. “I was very lucky, I got into it at an early age and it’s been a real driver in my life. I can see first-hand all the good that comes from it, and the challenge for us is to get the message across that shooting delivers the best possible diverse and sustainable countryside – real results, not just talk and politics. The Purdey Awards makes that connection.”
“During the last 20 years, the Awards has evolved and refined, but its purpose is still the same – to highlight all the good that an interest in shooting does in producing the best of the UK’s habitats and landscapes,” Kennedy emphasises. “It’s the recognition of the benefits that comes from an activity that is ingrained in the countryside.”
Here, Jonathan Kennedy shares more about the great and good of shooting, plus highlights from this year’s Awards.
What are the main challenges when it comes to shooting, the countryside and conservation?
The key question at the moment is: how can you maintain and enhance the countryside, while making it as available and special as possible for people to visit and enjoy? It’s a balance, and getting that balance right is the challenge.
People who haven’t had any contact with shooting find it difficult to understand why it has such a key strategic place in managing the countryside, and that is what we need to communicate. It’s a real challenge, because those who haven’t had any real exposure to shooting often think, ‘Why would you do it? Why would you kill something in order to make something better?’ And that’s where the GWCT, the main research and scientific organisation that provides the information to support the case, comes in.
For the best habitats, the best suites of wildlife, the best filtration for water companies, the best landscape generally, it’s usually where a passionate shooting person is, or has been, involved. Look at the grouse moors in particular, a totally wild environment in the north of England, where privately managed shooting has proven to be the most successful tool in terms of management. All other systems and tenures have produced vastly inferior results.
The challenge is to not let shooting become secondary to tree planting or rewilding, or even non-management, which stores up a whole heap of problems, and can lead to wildlife deserts and inferior habitats. Shooting’s role in the management of the countryside is largely why the UK has such a diverse landscape with abundant wildlife. There’s nowhere else in the world like it.
Who makes the cut for the Awards?
The entrants vary enormously. We could be looking at a very small area of land, or it could be an enormous estate; and they can be doing quite different things, and totally different types of shooting. So, while the subject matter varies, the core criteria is that shooting is the motivation behind the management and conservation work; what has been done is high quality, impactful and sustainable; and that it produces a proper shooting outcome, rather than just being a flight of fancy.
Quite often, people put in for the Awards and it’s a bit early, they either haven’t been doing the work for long enough or the outcome isn’t there yet. Not infrequently, we might say ‘this is premature, give it a few more years and if it’s done what you say it’s going to do, you’ll be right up there’.
Given the varied entrants, the discussions among the judging panel can be very interesting, because everyone is coming at it from a slightly different angle. This year’s debate was particularly high quality. But, when we get to the really good entries, everyone is on the same page.
How does the judging process work?
There are usually about 12 judges in total and a shortlist of around 10 entries. Dr. Mike Swann of the GWCT begins by sharing his opinion from a research and scientific perspective, then two, three or four judges visit each estate. So, it’s only when all the judges get together in one room – for what we call judgement day in October – that we get the full picture.
The lead judge for each entry presents a written report in advance, including an abundance of information about what’s shot, how things are managed, the non-game species that are there, the birds that are seen, how the various agricultural and conservation schemes work – and then there’s a debate. Usually there are a few standouts, though at the end of the day, it’s quite a subjective decision.
We’re all sworn to secrecy about the winners! For those that do win, I think there’s a real sense of pride – if you spend a lot of time working on a project that you’re passionate about, and you can demonstrate that it’s successful, there’s a huge sense of achievement. People refer to the Purdey Awards as a big accolade, it’s a feather in the cap and well respected in the shooting world as it demonstrates hard work, passion, vision – and, crucially, something that has delivered.