There are about 3000 full time gamekeepers in the UK and a similar number who do the job part time. They work on farms and estates to look after the game species, their habitats and the other wildlife that shares them.
Game keeping is a very old profession. The first gamekeepers in Britain would have been the men who protected the deer from poachers in the medieval Royal hunting forests. Today, gamekeepers are still concerned about poachers but their main work is to help pheasants, partridges, hares, deer and grouse to thrive in the countryside.
Looking after the woods, hedgerows and fields in which the game birds and animals live is crucial. Most game birds need good grassy cover in which to nest, plenty of food and protection from rats and crows which would otherwise attack and eat the chicks. Hares need open country and protection from foxes.
Because lots of other wild birds and animals benefit from these things too, gamekeeping helps to ensure a balanced environment with plentiful wildlife. And between then, Britain's gamekeepers look after far more countryside than all the National Parks and nature reserves put together.
Many gamekeepers also rear pheasants and partridges by hand for release into the countryside to supplement wild stocks. This rearing is carried out every spring, with the birds being released carefully into the wild during July and August. Some will be shot the following winter, but many will survive to strengthen numbers in the wild. It is the income from the shooting which pays for all the gamekeeper's work.
Gamekeeping can be a lonely job, involving hard work at anti-social hours and often for low pay, although normally the employer will provide a house and a vehicle. It appeals to men and women who love working outdoors and with nature. Often gamekeeping runs in a family and at busy times several family members may be involved, helping to rear the chicks or manage the woodlands.
Many of the younger 'keepers now learn their trade not from their fathers but in one of a number of agricultural colleges which offer a qualification in the profession. Like all things, the job has become more technical as time has gone by, and today's 'keepers need to understand veterinary medicines, agricultural practice, and annual budgets, as well as retaining their more traditional harmony with nature and the countryside.
In 1997, Britain's gamekeepers came together, forming the National Gamekeepers' Organisation to encourage high standards and to explain gamekeeping to the general public.
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