Gamekeeper of the Month – September

Michael Walton

Head ‘keeper at Catton Park Estate

September’s gamekeeper of the month is Michael Walton. Michael is head ‘keeper at Catton Park Estate.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you into gamekeeping?

A: I grew up on Catton Estate where my father, Wilf, was a gamekeeper.

I would help my father after school and during school holidays. So, I quite naturally fell under his wing as an underkeeper right after I left school. it was quite natural when I left school, I joined my father as his underkeeper.

Naturally, my father inspired me to become a gamekeeper. He showed everything he knew about the countryside and so did other keepers in the area. And helpfully, so did other gamekeepers in the area.

Life seemed slower and more relaxed in them days. ‘Keepers regularly met to catch up and I was keen to learn from them all.

Q: Do you have a special motto?

A: Tomorrow must always be better because if you don’t try to improve things, things will go backwards.

Q: What do you love about this job the most?

A: The complete variation from day to day throughout the seasons. From wood maintenance to rearing, releasing, feeding and finally to the harvest – the shooting.

At Catton we have all kinds of shooting from walked up and small driven through to larger driven days. Also, all drives are completely different. I enjoy this variety the most – no two days are the same.

Q: Is there any red listed or unusual wildlife on your shoot?

A: Catton Estate has a very good population of raptors. You can see French owls, tawny owls, white owls, kestrels, sparrow hawks and buzzards. We now are also seeing red kites, and occasionally, peregrines too.

Q: What does the job involve that people might not realise?

A: I think people probably don’t realise what the countryside as a whole truly is like. But a good example is the woodlands. They are not just maintained by foresters; but also by gamekeepers.

Q: What would you say to encourage the next generation to consider a career in gamekeeping?

A: I would say to anyone thinking about becoming a gamekeeper that it’s a great way of life but you must view it as a vocation, not just a job. It also takes a certain character to succeed and enjoy gamekeeping.

I would encourage young people to spend the summer holidays with a gamekeeper to experience the job first-hand.

Q: What’s your greatest achievement so far?

A: When my father was a gamekeeper here, Catton was a small pheasant syndicate shoot. I helped create a partridge shoot which has now evolved into a very reasonable shoot indeed.

Catton has also become much more commercialised and we host a range of days, from small, walked up days to 250-bird driven days. It’s grown so much since I first started working here as an underkeeper.

Q: What is your most essential piece of kit?

A: It just has to be my Polaris ATV. It is a complete workhorse and I would struggle to keep up without it. From checking traps and snares to taking poults to the wood and staying on top of the feeding – I use it 365 days a year.

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