The Glenogil Estate is one of Scotland’s finest sporting estates, encompassing over 23,000 acres of fantastically beautiful and diverse countryside. There are six grouse beats (Over 17,000 acres) and a well established pheasant and partridge shoot. Set in the Angus Glens, an incredibly picturesque area of the east of Scotland and bounded by the North Sea and the Cairngorms National Park makes it a very special place.
Last month I was given the chance to go and visit the estate and spend some time with the twelve keepers to try and learn a small bit about what they do on a day to day basis. As an Oxfordshire boy with a largely agricultural background, I was understandably thrilled at the prospect. Quickly two things dawned on me. Firstly, the closest I had ever come to Angus was the famous breed of cattle and secondly with a South Oxfordshire accent, I was hardly going to be inconspicuous! Luckily on my arrival my fears were quickly dispelled as I was welcomed at Dundee airport by one of the beatkeepers who was very friendly and soon put me at ease by getting me up to date with the recent goings on and how the grouse were faring after a very difficult season. No sooner had I dropped off my bags and changed into more suitable kit I was taken off to meet a few of the other keepers and get on with some work.
Whilst I have dealt with and visited upland estates before and as such have heard or read about what the main roles of a hill keeper are, I quickly realised that there is a vast gulf between this and what actually happens. For those unfamiliar with grouse, they are a truly wild bird and as such cannot be restocked after a bad season (such as this one) or after severe predation. Therefore, the success or otherwise of the grouse is down largely to the hard work of the gamekeepers in managing every facet of the moorland and creating the best conditions for the grouse to survive and indeed thrive in. One of the main factors that has a massive influence on grouse numbers are predators and as such, are a huge priority for the keepers. It is easy to underestimate the amount of time required to keep on top of predators, either lamping or by means of traps and snares, which on an estate of that size is no mean feat. As well as the actual commitment and motivation to do all of this the fieldcraft and skill that these men use is unbelievable and made me realise that it is not just a means to an end – by that I mean producing grouse to be shot, but rather to maintain the moorland. The production of grouse is merely a by-product of a well managed eco-system. The benefits of this to other bird species was abundantly clear all through my trip, among others I saw wheatears, corn buntings, lapwings, snipe, woodcock, red shanks as well as plenty of black game.
When I arrived home and reflected on my trip, I came to the realisation that my perspective of gamekeepers had changed massively. Rather than producing game birds purely for sport being the main role – as a means to an end, producing game birds for sport is achieved but in the context of managing the moorland in the best way possible. The benefits of which by far exceed the boundaries of shooting. In 2001 farmers were told they were the “custodians of the countryside”, in the light of the introduction of cross-compliance. After my trip I feel that gamekeepers are more than deserving of this mantle also.