Thousands of wild snowdrops are glinting in the winter-weary grass. They are the first overture of spring. However, it was the closing act of winter that saw dozens of Land Rovers rattle down the local lanes to converge in the middle of a giant wood.
Here, men many of whom wore camouflage sniffed the air and greeted each other with heavy handshakes. It was the muster for the annual pigeon shoot, one of the few highlights of February. Forty or so men and boys drew lots, and were then sent off to different woods on the estate.
The idea is to keep the pigeons on the move as they come to roost, thereby providing plenty of shooting opportunities. A few years ago and this is important Natural England announced that you could not shoot pigeons for pleasure, only vermin control. For the sake of the authorities, I can report that I took no pleasure in the one pigeon I shot, but I would like to add that I took even less pleasure in the ones I missed.
Back in the real world, due to the conditions, we managed a fairly meagre tally between us, but raised £3,000 for Help for Heroes and produced a delicious supper for each of our families.