Gamekeepers say they are the ‘true protectors of the countryside’, not the RSPB

Gamekeepers are the real stewards of the countryside, according to a new report that found land managed for shooting covers a wider area than all of Britain’s nature reserves.

The first ever survey of land managed by gamekeepers found they are responsible for 1.3 million hectares of land, more than all the nature reserves owned by the Government, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Wildlife Trusts put together.

Gamekeepers are responsible for controlling pests and actively managing woodland, moors and waterways for the benefit of game birds, deer and fish.

But the study by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust found gamekeepers also help other species like brown hare, songbirds and wading birds by controlling predators such as foxes and mink. Feeding over winter helps farmland birds such as grey partridge, skylarks and yellowhammers.

Even birds of prey are thriving on managed land with more than 80 per cent of respondents reporting kestrels, buzzards, sparrowhawks, barn and tawny owls on their land.

The traditional role of game keeping has come under fire recently with the ban on blood sports like hunting and crackdown on wildlife crime. A number of gamekeepers have even been imprisoned for illegally poisoning rare birds of prey.

However the study found kestrels, red kites, marsh harriers, merlins, barn owls, and ospreys were generally viewed benignly by gamekeepers. Some other birds of prey, such as the common buzzard were seen as having detrimental effects on game and wildlife, but are tolerated nonetheless.

The majority of keepered land is receiving environmental subsidies meaning it is also helping maintain traditional features like dry stone walls or boost rare plants like cornflowers. (but not rare birds of prey, which many keepers would rather see 6 feet under) Raptor Politics words

The results will be presented to environment ministers at the CLA Game Fair at Blenheim, near Oxford, this Friday.

Lindsay Waddal, chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, said gamekeepers are doing more for wildlife than all the green groups put together.

“The truth is that gamekeepers undoubtedly host more wildlife on their land than all the nature conservation bodies put together,” he said.

But the League Against Cruel Sports pointed out 12,300 wild mammals and birds are killed on UK shooting estates every day.

A spokesman said gamekeepers “play a key role in the destruction of wildlife” and land managed by conservation organisations is much better for native wildlife.

“To manage land for a single species that is being reared for sporting purposes has negative consequences for biodiversity,” he said.

The RSPB said gamekeepers have some of the country’s best conservation land – but “they have a long way to go” in protecting some species.

“It is fantastic the shooting community recognise the contribution they can make to conservation, however there are issues. We would question the relative absence of birds of prey across upland moors managed by gamekeepers, overgrazing by deer on stalking estates and the poor state of some sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs).”

In Edwardian times there were 25,000 gamekeepers in the UK but there are now just 5,000, of whom half are part time or amateurs.

Mr Waddal said it is a “myth” that gamekeepers work only for large landowners. More than two thirds of shoots in the survey were smaller than 1000ha , with 25 per cent being smaller than 250ha.

He said gamekeepers have an important role in protecting against poachers, who will leave animals such as deer injured, and also stopping the growing incidence of theft in the countryside.

“In many parts of the countryside, gamekeepers have been quietly living up to the ideals of the Big Society for years,” he said. “And quite apart from their normal duties, it is important to realise that in many remote rural areas, gamekeepers are the eyes and ears of law enforcement agencies.”

Footnote:

Although Joseph Goebbels  the German Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany and one of Adolf Hitler’s closest associates, did not write this article, he would have been mighty proud to have done so … Thank our lucky stars for gamekeepers and the stirling work they have done throughout the years preserving England’s birds of prey.

3 comments to Gamekeepers say they are the ‘true protectors of the countryside’, not the RSPB

  • Chris Mills

    I’d still like to know why the Derbyshire Hen Harriers failed on Lord Derby’s estate… and why Natural England revoked the North West Raptor Protection Group’s licenses for Bowland ( where 74% of Peregrine nests failed this year).

    Most gamekeepers do a sterling job for conservation, but there is still a rogue element that blight the profession. These people need to be imprisoned when caught out, not given meaningless fines their employers will pay.

  • sh23363

    I just wonder who is pulling the strings. You have to say that this is quite clever even if it is utter tosh.

    Politicians have in-trays full of issues that demand their attention. Persecution on wildlife on game estates is just one of them and from time to time it rises to the top. Unfortunately our politicians are loath to take action because while better protection for wildife may be popular with many it will upset a very small but very powerful minority. This report will allow politicians an excuse to push the illegal persecution issue down the agenda. It does not need to convince anybody – if it weakens political resolve it has done its job.

    What is of real concern here is the ready access these people have to ministers – maybe we should be just as worried about this insidious influence as we have suddenly become about Mr Murdoch.

    This is all part of the effort to portray game estates as fulfilling a ‘public good’ and demonstrating that they are the ‘big society’ delivering environmental benefit. If the localism agnenda if followed we might find resources devolved directly to these people so that they can do more of their good work protecting wildlife but without the inconvenience of regulation.

  • harrier man

    Excellent footnote to the article, i have questioned the role of AONBs, SPAs, SSSi and NNRs on upland keepered grouse moors for many years they do not provide the biodiversity pool they should even with public money thrown at them plenty of red grouse though.