The changing nature of gamekeeping

Earlier this year I spoke to a ‘keeper called Robert who has worked on the Ripley Estate for 25 years about his work. It is a large shoot with four estates and another standalone shoot, the Mountgarret, next to Ripley. I asked him a few questions on the work of gamekeepers that may interest a reader like me with little knowledge of gamekeeping.

Few tips from a keeper

Before talking to Robert, I was told that he is known for holding his birds well, which is an important part of the work of a gamekeeper. I was interested to see if he had any tricks for keeping them from wandering and Robert came up with a couple of simple tricks. He said that in the mornings feeding out towards the game crop is important and in the evenings, feed towards the pen.

Timing is crucial; if you stick to the same hours, the birds will know where to be. If you are too late in the evenings it is best to let the birds find their own way back, then use dogs to push back any stragglers. Hand feeding is also important to stop birds roaming.

It is also important to make sure there is plenty of water available in the pen so the birds don’t need to try to find some. Robert noted that becks and gutters can cause trouble.

Hen vs incubator

Robert is also familiar with using older rearing methods like bantams for incubation, (that’s where a hen is used to incubate the eggs and then care for the chicks).

Having done a little research, using bantams seems like a good option. He said that bantams work well to a point; the chicks had less disease, the bantam also would look after the chicks and teach them how to look for food, helping to produce hardier poults.

Another point Robert made was that more chicks would hatch under a hen than in an incubator. Silkies are particularly good for incubating partridge eggs. However, Robert also pointed out the merits of using modern incubators and there are many good reasons for using modern methods.

It is often not financially practical to use bantams on a larger scale due to the space required for separate pens. And using bantams requires gamekeepers to put in much longer hours to get the same results of contemporary methods, too.

Gamekeeping and the future

I asked Robert whether there was anything he was concerned about in regard to gamekeeping. He mentioned a few concerns for the future, namely the ‘rules and regulations’. He believes new rules brought in by the government prevent gamekeepers from properly managing the countryside. Proper management is not only important for game shooting but also for conservation, and the flora and fauna.

One issue Robert mentioned was hedgerows. These need to be cut regularly to create denser cover for small birds. They provide protection from birds of prey and a warm, secure place for nesting. With the government overruling gamekeepers, hedgerows have become thin and poorer places for birds to nest. Robert made a point that the work gamekeepers have done for years has been for a good reason.

This is not to say that all government regulations are negative for the environment. I personally would like to see more action from the government on conservation and climate change.

Taking a step back

Robert would also like the sport to take a step back. He doesn’t like excessive shooting and feels as though some Guns don’t appreciate how much time and effort goes into managing the land and the birds. In addition, a shoot may involve land owned by multiple farmers which can complicate the work of the gamekeeper.

Although there are inevitable issues for gamekeeping and game shooting in general, I think good practice and the right mindset will ensure that the sport has a promising future.

While tradition is important, keeping an open mind towards change will ensure the survival of shooting, gamekeeping and the conservation of the countryside for generations to come.