During this guide we look at the following:
- Duties of the Gamekeeper
- The National Gamekeeper Organisation (NGO)
- Gamekeeper Attire
History of Gamekeeping
History suggests that back in the 1800's, the favoured game bird for shooting was the partridge. However as time went by,there was an increased demand for a more challenging and difficult fly game and, as a result, pheasants were introduced. These birds are found to fly at a higher altitude, presenting more of a challenge than their counterparts. So eventually, due to their popularity, the demand for pheasants increased meaning there was less call for partridges! As this demand grew, it became necessary to rear sufficient stocks of pheasants - hence the role of the gamekeeper was born!
Within the UK today, gamekeepers collectively manage over 15 million acres of land, with 70% of them looking after a 'Site of Special Scientific Interest' (SSSI). These are areas that are protected from development, pollution or unsustainable land management. SSSI's are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Examples of SSSIs are large wetlands that stock waterfowl, flower-rich meadows or peat bogs. There are many SSSIs in England, including Alderley Edge in Cheshire and Colwell Bay in the Isle of Wight and there are currently 1,019 SSSIs in Wales offering protection to estuaries, uplands and lakes. For some examples of SSSIs in Scotland, please click here.
Duties of the Gamekeeper
The role of the Gamekeeper largely depends upon the environment they are working within but there are indeed four key environments to consider:
- Uplands - An example of uplands-gamekeeping is the managing of grouse on moorland, in turn helping to support flora (plants growing within an environment at a particular time) and fauna (animal life within a region and time) to thrive within its natural habitat.
- Lowlands - Rearing, feeding and managing game birds such as pheasants or partridges
- Stalkers - Deer management in order to control its population, mainly in Scotland
- Gillies/River Keepers - The management of rivers and stocks of trout or salmon
Additionally, there are some specific gamekeeping roles, some of which are described below:
The main duty of a Pheasant Gamekeeper is to rear pheasants from their eggs up to the age of six weeks. However, there are many other duties including:
- managing 24 hour protection from predators
- feeding the birds with scientifically formulated crumbs and pellets
- managing the use of resources such as incubators and brooding equipment
- dealing with - and trying to prevent the spread of - various bird-related illnesses, such as Avian Influenza
- completing risk assessments, prior to shoots
- transporting birds, equipment and food to their shooting locations
Unlike pheasants, grouse are wild birds and therfore they are not reared or fed in the same way. So, this means that aspects of grouse gamekeeping can be quite different to aspects of pheasant gamekeeping and duties may include:
- burning heather to ensure the Grouse have sufficient heather shoots to eat
- providing grit to help the Grouse digest woody heather
- controlling predators such as foxes, weasals or stoats
- making sure poachers (or visitors with dogs) are not disturbing nests during the breeding season
- counting the number of grouse in the early summer, to see how successful the breeding season has been
- calculating how many days shooting will be available
- maintaining roads, walls and carrying out general repairs
As Grouse are wild birds, they can in fact quite often be struck down by disease or perhaps attacked by parasites. Therefore, another important role of the grouse gamekeeper is to try control such diseases and parasites by maintaining the land and also managing predators. Additionally, there is a requirement to ensure that the populaton of the Grouse does not become excessive.
There are many bodies who look after the interest of Gamekeepers, including:
- National Gamekeepers' Organisation (NGO)
- British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC)
- The Countryside Alliance
- National Organisation of Beaters and Pickers Up (NOB)
Incidentally, the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) was founded in 1997 by a group of UK Gamekeepers. It's aim is to 'promote, improve and protect gamekeeping in the UK, thereby securing a thriving long-term future for the profession'. NGO's moto is 'run by gamekeepers for gamekeepers'!
The NGO currently has 6,000 gamekeeper members with a further 10,000 supporters and its overall role is to:
- be the first point of call for any person interested in gamekeeping
- provide information and advice on gamekeeping
- consult with authorities on issues relating to wildlife management
- communicate with professions on a regular basis to discuss any concerns
- organise regional and national meetings, encouraging both members and supporters to attend, to discuss countryside issues and changes to regulations
- supply members with copies of the NGO magazine
- assist gamekeepers to do their job, by working with NGO Training Limited to offer good quality training courses on topics such as:
- Predator control
- Game meat hygiene
- Gun Safety
- Deer Management
Coats, Clothes and Boots for Gamekeepers
Gamekeepers are of course out and about in the countryside bravely facing all weathers! Often, there can be heavy rain or high winds and, on occasion, required duties may take the gamekeeper in the direction of hedgegrowth, woodlands or sometimes even farm crops! Some estates may provide transport such as 4x4 landrovers or quad bikes to assist with moving about but, where this is not possible, the gamekeeper may have to walk for considerable distances across uneven or boggy/peaty ground and streams, all in an effort to reach their location. Not having the right attire can only make such journeys more difficult.
It is so important therefore, to make sure that the right clothing is worn to provide the necessary protection for difficult walks or extreme weathers, but also to ensure that the standards, as set by the shooting estate and group, are met.
Nowadays, gamekeepers really should have two sets of clothing meaning one set of formal clothing for official shoot days, and perhaps another set of informal clothing for those normal working days.
Shoot Day Attire
The formal etiquette for a traditional day's shoot on an estate would include a traditional hardwearing tweed suit with stockings. The tweet suit may consist of a tattersal shirt, a country silk tie, a tweed waistcoat with matching breeks and a shooting jacket. Plus it is advisable to wear either a pair of wellington boots or perhaps brogue shoes. Interestingly, many Scottish stalkers, ghillies and keepers favour the use of tweed, as it offers the best protection against the worst of weathers, even on moorlands where very little shelter is available!
Normal Working Day
As a gamekeeper, much of your time will be spent managing predators, moving incubators and equipment around and sometimes transporting birds. If so, it may be helpful to consider wearing tougher clothing for these duties, perhaps selecting ranges made from light and breathable fabrics. With new performance fabrics now available, such as GORE-TEX, lightweight cotton wax clothing, fleeces and country-sports jacket, there are many ranges to choose from!
It's worth noting too, that waterproof fabrics and waterproof membranes will prevent driving rain from seeping through your clothing, and a breathable fabric will ensure that you don't get too hot or too cold while you work. In fact, breathable fabrics will wick away any moisture!
Often, pairing a GORE-TEX jacket with a lightweight fleece baselayer will offer you warmth and comfort all day long and a clear advantage of this is if you do get too hot, you can very easily remove a layer!
Suggested normal working day attire:
At Cherry Tree Country Clothing, we hope you have found the information above both interesting and useful. Should you have any queries on the best clothing, footwear or equipmant to suit your needs, please do contact us on 01978 437029 or please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be delighted to assist!
Thank you for taking the time to read our article!