Autumn is upon us yet again and with the shifting seasons come the regular hunters to the countryside. Although it produces mixed feelings in many of us, gamekeepers play an important role in contributing to the diversity and conservation of rare species; without hunting, our world would look very different.
The gamekeeper is a skilled individual whose main responsibility is to manage the land, provide access for shooting on their land, and shape the biodiversity of our countryside.
If you are considering to become a gamekeeper yourself, there is a lot to read up on and a few myths to bust, first of all.
Why become a gamekeeper?
A person who is passionate about the health of the countryside would undoubtedly be an excellent gamekeeper. There are around five thousand of them in the UK today who contribute to its health by managing the land and by rearing the game for the shooting season.
The fact that a gamekeeper also protects and supports the conservation of endangered species is something that seems to pass people by as they mostly associate them with providing access for shooting. While this is true, there is so much more to the occupation of a modern gamekeeper. Have a look at this list, by the way, to read more about the endangered species in Britain - the red squirrel is on it as well as the humble hedgehog.
You can easily find a college that offers Diplomas and other land management degrees that will give you a sufficient foundation for embarking on this career path. Some of them are a bit more academic than others, so spend some time exploring your options and find one that suits you best.
It’s typical that an NVQ course, for example, offers education that is more hands-on than the academic ones - as well as an apprenticeship in gamekeeping where you get to learn on the job instead of in a lecture.
The different keepers
The countryside is diverse, and so are the keepers who look after it. While some people choose this career later in life, they manage to do so without a formal education because they possess the necessary skills and knowledge - the kind that comes with many years of dedication and an interest in managing the land.
A lowland keeper, for example, is mostly to be found in woodland or open farmland; they are concerned with pheasants, among others, as well as mallards and partridges. Highland keepers have an interest in deer stalking and will work in, you guessed it, the highlands - in some of the Scottish highland areas, they will also be involved with grouse.
If you have extensive knowledge about deer, grouse, and blackcocks, you’ll be an excellent gamekeeper in the uplands who are usually found on the moors. As you can see, there is a lot to think about before even understanding what kind of keeper you’d be better suited as - by focusing on the experience you have so far and your interests in the countryside, it’s easier to map out your route.
Remember that, although it seems like a gamekeeper has a solitary job and keeps to what he or she knows best, you’re going to be involved with people - especially now during the hunting season. Farm managers and forestry workers, for example, are used to working closely with the gamekeeper; their occupations may be different, but their interests are the same - namely, the health and shape of the countryside.
And don’t forget the various clients who will come to your land to shoot and enjoy the hunting season; as a keeper, you will be responsible to arrange shoots and make sure there is sufficient game on the land.
This means that you need to have knowledge about what kind of animals who would be attracted to a specific game cover, the various species and what type of environment they prefer, as well as having extensive knowledge about wildlife in general. During the shooting season, a gamekeeper supervises his or her beat, as they call it, and may also be responsible for selling the game to the hunter afterward.
It usually helps if you have an interest in hunting yourself, but the job comes with a lot of other responsibilities as well. As long as you are up to date on the safety issues when dealing with guns, know your way around the rules and regulations, and are able to handle them yourself, hunting doesn’t have to be your cup of tea if you’d like to manage the wildlife and countryside nonetheless.
The gamekeeper’s role in spring and summer
Luckily, you won’t be bored when the hunting season is over. A gamekeeper is busy all year round and will often be found rearing young birds from hatcheries in the spring and summer. They also need to look after the game and make sure they are safe from predators such as crows, foxes, weasels, and rats that may harm the wildlife.
Taking care of one’s beat is important during this season as well, but the tasks are a bit different when there are no hunters around. You’ll be looking after the equipment and buildings, for example, making necessary repairs and ensuring that everything is up to standard by the time hunting season is on again.
As with many seasonal jobs, there will be a lot for you to do during one point of the year- and less to do at another point. You will spend a lot of time outdoors, there’s no doubt about it, and need to enjoy working with your hands as well as spending a lot of time walking, being active, and staying alert to predators on the land. Since gamekeepers are such a valuable part of the countryside, many employers will offer free or low-cost accommodation - as well as a vehicle and the opportunity to keep pets.
It’s any nature and wildlife lover’s dream - especially if you have a practical flair to you and an interest in conservation, safety, and hunting.