Within the Cairngorms National Park lie some 60 privately owned estates, many of which are still owned by families whose involvement goes back centuries. Covering nearly 75 per cent of the National Park, these estates play an important role in maintaining and sustaining just what makes the area so special.
The estates have many different purposes such as being a Highland retreat to wealthy owners or tenants or even being hired as a stunning backdrop location for a wedding or film set. However, most often they provide a living for local farmers and land managers as well as giving the public and visitors to the area lots of things to do and see. Most undertake a wide variety of activities, from farming and forestry to traditional country sports like deer stalking and grouse shooting. Many provide a Ranger Service and outdoor activities such as clay shooting, quad biking, pony trekking or land rover tours.
Integral to the successful running and management of these estates is the gamekeeper who is indispensable and plays a vital role. For instance, they manage wildlife and their habitats, breed and manage game birds, control deer number, manage fishing and carry out pest control.
Naturally work activities vary according to the season with summer and autumn being a particularly busy period. It is the season of grouse shooting and deer stalking when people from around the world come to enjoy country sports in a very special environment. A September’s day involves an early start to tackle a variety of tasks and typically it could include: sourcing beaters; students are returning to their studies soon resulting in a manpower shortage. It is important to hire individuals who are fit, conscientious and reliable for beating as they are needed to flush birds from their cover during shoots. Other duties might involve; supervising the repair of roads before the winter, checking anglers have the correct permits, feeding pheasants or partridges, putting out grit for grouse, finalising plans and transportation arrangements for a large shooting party. An eventful and demanding day by all accounts!
For a person interested in nature, the countryside and the environment who would like a practical job outdoors then working as a gamekeeper could be very appealing. There is variety for sure but it is not a career for the feint hearted or those who want set hours. Relating to animals and wildlife is an inherent part of the job but there is no room for sentimentality. You have to be able to kill vermin and, like a livestock farmer, you have to deal with the death of animals and birds for whose existence you are responsible.
So what personal qualities are needed? Well, you should have an understanding of working with nature and the challenges thrown up by the natural environment. You need to be patient and physically fit, able to do hard physical work, usually outside in rough terrain, in all weather conditions. A gamekeeper should be good with their hands as they have to tackle all sorts of jobs. They need to be happy working on their own without supervision for long periods, often in remote areas, while still being part of a small team. Good observational skills are taken as read; a shooting party will rely on them being sharp-eyed when tracking game. Any other skills? Apart from experience of working outdoors and knowledge of the countryside, it is helpful to have experience of working as part of a beating team, or in a related job such as forestry or agriculture. Practical skills such as carpentry are useful too. Modern gamekeeping is however a profession and most new gamekeepers these days undertake several years of training before their first full-time role. What else could a gamekeeper be involved with? Gamekeepers can be concerned with planning and organising shoots and fishing parties, keeping records of what is shot or caught and arranging the sale of game, training gun dogs and working with them. There is a series of routine maintenance tasks throughout the year including controlling predators by shooting and trapping; protecting game from poachers by patrolling the beat area at night (and having to confront them), breeding game birds for release into the wild, repairing fences, game enclosures, other equipment and cleaning guns.
Guns, that’s right! You need to be able to handle a gun safely. For most gamekeeping jobs you will be expected to have a firearms certificate and a shotgun certificate. And, of course a mature attitude is needed at all times when working with firearms. But guns are not the only dangerous implements handled. Gamekeepers are involved often in tasks that could be hazardous, such as operating chainsaws or snares, so by law, certificates of competence must be held.
So it’s not a 9-5 job! Gamekeepers usually work flexible hours which depend on the season and the jobs that need doing. Often this means working long, sometimes irregular hours, usually with early starts, late finishes and weekend work. You really have to love the outdoors as it can be muddy, wet and cold. But how many people go to work in such a glorious setting? With the native Caledonian Scots Pine forest providing a backdrop for rolling heather covered moors, hills and mountains, it is indeed awe-inspiring. And imagine the stories to be told. The tale of the “one that got away” takes on a new meaning whether it is an enormous salmon, magnificent stag or cunning poacher. So many anecdotes, so many memorable encounters.
In addition to offering country sports, many estates are involved in producing and selling top quality food such as venison and beef or they offer visitors the opportunity to experience the estate. This could take the form of a a gentle guided walk amid fine scenery with a chance to view some of the more elusive birds and animals such as eagles, red squirrels, ptarmigan, or roe deer through to a variety of organised outdoor activities: everything from off road driving or archery to wildlife watching or Bushcraft. For those activities not offered on the estate, many others like gorge walking, rafting or rock climbing are available either on the doorstep or in the vicinity. To find out what awaits, visit www.visitcairngorms.com or check out individual estates to discover their visitor experiences. A selection include: Invercauld Estate, Ballater www.invercauld.estate ; Alvie Estate, Kincraig, Aviemore www.alvie-estate.co.uk ; Mar Lodge, Braemar www.marlodgeestate.org.uk ; Rothiemurchus Estate, Inverdruie, Aviemore www.rothiemurchus.net
With grateful thanks to Invercauld Estate for their insight and input.
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