These days it seems that everyone wants to “escape to the country”, seeking an idyllic lifestyle out in the sticks away from city stress. But what work is available once you get there? This article is the first in a short series looking at countryside careers.
Gamekeeping falls under the umbrella of the game and wildlife management industry and so is represented by Lantra Sector Skills Council. Broadly speaking, game and wildlife management involves the management and maintenance of wildlife species and habitats across the UK, in particular game birds and deer. The industry manages populations of these animals in order to supply shooting-based field sports.
To be a gamekeeper you must have an interest in the countryside and enjoy working outdoors all year round. You should enjoy the challenge of various practical jobs and be happy working alone or as part of a small team. You will need to have a good knowledge of health and safety issues, together with good observational skills and the ability to communicate effectively with others.
The gamekeeper’s role
Gamekeepers are usually employed by large country estates. Their primary responsibility is to ensure that there is enough game, (i.e. deer, pheasant, partridge and grouse) for clients to shoot. You will work primarily alone for long periods, out of doors in all weathers so this would not be the job for you if you’re a gregarious type who loves a heated office environment! The hours can be long and pretty irregular too, depending upon the season and what jobs need attending to around the estate. A compensation for this is that you usually have a house and vehicle provided for you, as part of your employment package.
A gamekeeper usually begins his/her career by working as an under-keeper, or apprentice alongside an experienced gamekeeper. The role is often offered on a self-employed basis and you will need a full driving licence.
Your duties vary depending upon the season and whereabouts in the country you are working, but your main tasks would usually include organising shoots and/or fishing parties and hiring and supervising beaters who flush birds out during shoots. You will also be responsible for keeping a record of who shot what on shooting days and arranging for the sale of any surplus game. Some gamekeepers also train gun dogs and work with them in the field.
You will be in charge of breeding game birds for release into the estate grounds and controlling predators like crows, magpies, rats and foxes by trapping or shooting. It’s your responsibility to protect the game from poaching and you will be expected to carry out regular patrols of vulnerable areas of the estate at night. You will be required to repair equipment, game pens and buildings and to keep guns clean and in good order.
In addition, as part of your estate management duties you will have to clear woodland areas, maintain fencing and burn back heather if appropriate. You will also liaise with the local police on illegal activities, involving wildlife persecution, such as badger digging, hare coursing, poaching or illegal hunting with dogs.
Gamekeepers generally earn from £11,000 to around £18,000 a year in addition to accommodation and the provision of a vehicle for your use whilst in the employ of the estate.
Work in very rural areas is scarce and there is fierce competition for apprenticeships and under-keeper positions, so it’s useful if you can acquire some experience in a related area like farming, or forestry, or you could perhaps work as a beater on an estate during the shooting season.
There are a number of relevant academic full-time courses you should consider before searching for a position. These are not essential but would certainly give you an edge over less well-qualified competition. These courses include:
- BTEC Level 3 Certificate/Diploma in Countryside Management
- SQA National Certificate Introduction to Gamekeeping (Scotland)
- SQA HNC in Gamekeeping and Wildlife Management (Scotland)
Training and development
As an under-keeper, you will receive plenty of on-the-job training. In order to operate chainsaws and handle pesticides, you are required by law to hold certificates of competence and you will have to attend the relevant courses to obtain these. Organisations like the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the British Deer Society and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, all offer short residential courses, which may be applicable to your role depending upon where you are working.
Throughout your career you must keep up to date with current legislation, research and grant schemes. The best way to do this is to join an organisation like the National Gamekeepers' Organisation.
There is no doubt that working as a gamekeeper and custodian of some of the most beautiful and historic shooting estates in the UK is a fulfilling and challenging role, but it’s not for everyone and should be viewed as a way of life, rather than just a job.
Further information and useful references
http://www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk (National Gamekeepers’ Organisation)
http://www.gwct.org.uk/ (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust)
http://www.gamekeeperstrust.org.uk/ (National Gamekeepers’ Organisation Educational Trust)