I thought I should look at the writing of shoot leases. This is something that never really crossed my
mind until about 4 years ago and when I started to understand what was involved suddenly became
quite a subject that affected me more in the last 3 years than in my whole working life.
When I first came to the shoot in Norfolk I was a single handed keeper for a syndicate, they were all small business men and this was at the time of the 80s recession. It was apparent from the start that everything was run on a shoestring budget, and it was not too long before they packed the shoot in and left me with no job. So I had a choice, look for another job or take on this shoot. Well the long and short of it was that I took the shoot and the agreement was jotted down on the back of a Woodbine packet. That was it, a handshake and a few notes. You can have a gentleman’s agreement but you have to be dealing with gentlemen. Not only that but there is also the legal aspect to consider and the situation I found myself in when the management changed.
After 20 years on the same shoot I was under the impression that they would carry me out of this place in a box. I was here to stay, my daughters were born here and we were happy. Then it all changed. Suddenly the new management wanted contracts, rules on numbers released, compensation for crop damage and above all a massive rise in land rent. Because there was no written lease they could only insist on this but I could not prove what was agreed to originally. The legal advice that I took was about 50-50. While they could not prove what I was not entitled to, I could not prove what I was entitled to. I had my home, business, family and employee’s to consider and nothing in writing. Everything had changed. Over a course of time it became apparent that my business would close, but the difference was now I had a written contract. And thank goodness I did. The contract enabled me to leave the shoot and to be protected by a number of business tenancy laws which I was able to use so that I did not lose out financially.
On a legal footing I never actually had the shooting rights in writing until the lease was put in place but when a cap was put on the number of days I could run but the rent was increased, the profit margin made it impossible to run the shoot any longer as a business. This was a double edged sword. Looking back, the situation inspired me to do more, to look outside the shoot and the first move was to make the deer stalking company a separate entity from the shoot. Deer Stalking in England ltd was formed to be completely separate from shoot. Then I started to look around and sure enough an opportunity arose to take the lease on a superb estate, to move my business, staff, guns friends and family.
So what of the new contract?
Well the first realisation when I got to Glemham Shoot in Suffolk was that I was wanted, and because of this fact, the contract or lease, was thrashed out by us all and on equal terms. There was room for negotiation. I was able to put my side forward, rent versus shoot days, number of birds released and number of shoot days and the use of the dining room in the hall for meals and use of particular buildings for rearing and storage.
The long and short of it, am I happy with the new shoot? Well yes, in fact I couldn’t be happier. It is a wonderful place with so much potential and I intend to make it into the premier shoot in Suffolk. I have no interest in second best, I simply want this shoot to be the place to be and a waiting list as long as my arm for syndicate places.
Quite a lot to ask? Yes I suppose so, but with the wonderful people I have the good fortune to work with and the Cobbold family doing all they can to help, I have no doubt that I will achieve my goal.