Once perceived as the enemy of Scotland’s wildlife, the modern day gamekeeper is increasingly seen as a protector of the countryside.
While still responsible for controlling pests and managing woodland, moors and waterways for the benefit of game birds, deer and fish, they also help preserve other species – including brown hares, songbirds and wading birds by controlling predators such as foxes and mink. The changing image of the job is seeing the number of applications for places on gamekeeping courses across Scotland outstripped by more than three to one.
Jim Goodlad, gamekeeping and wildlife management lecturer at SRUC Elmwood in Fife, said: “Gamekeepers are the current and future custodians of the countryside with a significant role in preserving the bio-diversity within rural Scotland.
“There are a diverse range of habitats which are species rich and in some cases provide provisions for breeding for some of our rare summer visitors, such as the dotterel. The increase in our indigenous red squirrel numbers is partly due to the management of grey squirrels. These are all a testament to the endeavour and conservation efforts relevant to the modern gamekeeper.
“Management of one species to benefit another is the modern gamekeeping rationale.”
Lecturers at North Highland College, SRUC Elmwood Campus and Borders College say applicants range from school leavers to mature students who have retired from a previous profession.
There were more than 70 applicants for just 20 places at the colleges and staff say recent graduates have already secured jobs across a variety of disciplines including grouse, pheasant, deer and wildlife conservation.
The grouse industry is vital to rural Scotland, with grouse shooting a major part of the £200 million generated for the economy by shooting and stalking every year.
Savio Genini, 19, who grew up in Kingussie, has been working on Pitmain Estate as a modern apprentice since 2013.
He said: “I am passionate about the work gamekeepers do in their local communities. I grew up working as a beater in the summer and I knew it was always something that I wanted to do.
“I love working with grouse and deer in this beautiful scenery. You just have to look at the wader population to see the difference gamekeepers are making to support rare species.”