Head keeper Bolton Castle Estate
Our next Gamekeeper of the Month is head keeper Ian Sleightholm from Bolton Castle estate. Ian talks about the reasons behind his decision to become a keeper, what he loves about his profession the most and why he would encourage the young generation to consider a career in gamekeeping.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you into gamekeeping?
A: I became a gamekeeper because from a young age I had a real passion for wildlife and the outdoors and a special interest in birds.
I was inspired by my grandfather who was a real countryman and who taught me the different bird species and their songs. He also taught me about different trees and plants, was a keen fisherman, and enjoyed following the local hunt (Wensleydale Fell Pack) too.
Q: What do you love about this job the most?
A: I love springtime the most. Seeing the young chicks from all the ground nesting birds thriving after the work we have done, like managing the vegetation and controlling predators, is truly rewarding.
At Bolton Castle estate, we are very fortunate to have thriving populations of many red listed species, such as curlew, lapwing, merlin, cuckoo, woodcock, skylark and ring ouzel. But our greatest success is the curlew, which are really bucking the trend and doing well on the estate all year round. We are lucky to have a large flock of over-wintering birds as well.
Q: How much involvement have you had with the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust and how have they helped you?
A: I think the GWT is great. I have been involved in events at shows and evening talks ran by the GWT and it is great to know there is always someone there to help out in times of difficulty.
Q: Are you involved in any charity initiatives?
A: We run a lot of charity events on the estate, raising money for the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research, either through our large clay pigeon events or by donating days’ shooting to raise money for GWCT.
We also recently helped raise funds for an outdoor classroom for a local primary school through a working gundog event.
Q: What does the job of a gamekeeper involve that people might not know about at all?
A: I think people don’t realise the amount of ground the keepers look after and how this benefits wildlife. We work not only on the moor but right across the estate, from moorland boundaries to the rivers and the valley bottom.
The money grouse shooting brings into the estate goes back into the management of the whole estate, e.g. planting trees, maintaining dry stone walls and creating more wader habitats.
Q: What is your most memorable moment as a gamekeeper?
A: I think lockdown has been a real challenge but for me it was a great chance to take my kids onto the moor every day at a time when the moor is bursting with life. It’s been fun to be able to pass on my knowledge of the countryside to them.
Q: What would you say to encourage the next generation to think about gamekeeping as a career?
A: I would say to any young person wanting to take up gamekeeping as a profession, to come into the job with a mind open to change. The job is constantly changing, but it provides the opportunity to work outdoors in some of the most beautiful parts of the country and with the greatest abundance of wildlife.
Q: What is your most essential piece of kit?
A: My most essential piece of kit are my Swarovski binoculars which I use every day for spotting predators and observing the wildlife on the estate.
Q: And finally, what’s your greatest achievement or what are you proud of the most?
A: I think my greatest achievement in thirteen years at Bolton is increasing the populations of not just the grouse but all the rare ground nesting birds which struggle to survive away from managed moorland.