This is a continuation of the guest blog published on 3rd February 2021. Please note that the same comments posted at the head of that apply here.
The big estates are the jewels in the crown of game shooting. They are run like the army with top quality kit and training. Only the best keepers make it to one of these estates but the money and perks make it a great life. The houses are good and well kept. The vehicles you get are the best and the clients are loaded so the tips are really huge. You work hard as part of a team and the whole estate is managed all year round but you are well rewarded.
The first thing to manage on a big estate is the boundary. You need to keep it secure not just from predators but from antis1. Deer fences with an electric line are the top protection. They also have the benefit of keeping walkers out. Walkers can be a real problem. They don’t understand the country way of life and they go running to the police or the RSPB if they see something they don’t like. Keeping walkers off the land is difficult with the ‘right to roam’ in Scotland but most estates try to keep numbers down. Roadside parking spots can be blocked with boulders. Cars that park on verges can get accidentally bumped or be blocked in by other vehicles. Walkers come back to their car to find the side has been scraped by a passing truck or that they have to wait an hour or two before someone arrives to move the vehicles blocking them in. I remember one guy who had to walk out miles along the road when he found that his car was blocked in by a trailer that couldn’t be moved until the next day. He didn’t come back in a hurry. Of course estates ‘welcome’ visitors but only at the right time, in the right place and in very controlled circumstances on guided walks. Carefully managed they can be good publicity but allowed to wander as they choose they are a real pain. Packham has a lot to answer for.
Once the boundary is protected the aim is to manage the land inside. It is really important to make sure you eliminate as many vermin as possible. Ground vermin are fairly easy to manage. Traps, snares and shooting along with poison baits for rats will bring numbers right down and they can then be kept low if you work hard. Badgers are a problem if they have a sett on the estate but they most were eradicated years ago. Badger setts and fox earths on farms round about are usually visited a couple of times a year by keepers. A lot of guys keep dogs for foxes but if you want to really test their guts putting them to a badger is the best way. Badgers are a real nuisance with the damage they cause to ground nesting birds, crops and giving TB to cattle. There are far too many of them and it’s really good that in Scotland the government have started a survey so they can work towards reducing the numbers. Foxes do get in even with electric lines on fences but snaring and shooting keeps them down. One estate burns out their fox earths and badger setts but a lot of keepers prefer to keep their dogs active. Burning the moor to improve the heather is also handy for keeping small mammals and snakes down. If you keep the numbers of small animals down there is not much to hunt and that keeps the big ones away. Hares are a problem because they pass on louping ill to the birds and encourage eagles to come hunting. Most estates organised major culls every season but with the government introducing licensing things will be more difficult now. The main thing is that once you have a licence there is no way of checking numbers. Unless someone follows you all day every day it is impossible to prove you have killed more that the licence allows. It’s why there is such a push to get a licence for buzzards. Even if the licence is for a single bird it’s impossible to prove anything unless you kill more than one bird at a time. A licence could also give cover to taking other pests like harriers and eagles. Most of these town folk can’t identify a bird properly anyway so it’s their word against your’s and as a professional keeper backed up by top notch lawyers the risk is nothing.
The real problem on estates is the flying vermin because you can’t fence them out. They were reintroduced by the RSPB and look at the damage they are causing. The reason that these vermin were removed in the first place is the damage they did to grouse stocks, lambs and land management generally. Increasing predator numbers like pine marten and wildcat is simply undoing all the good work of the past. They have introduced beavers and plan to introduce lynx and who knows what else. These things were removed for good reasons and bringing them back without even asking real land managers shows just how stupid our city based government are. Laws to protect vermin made by people who do not understand the countryside and the natural balance do nothing for a country. Scotland makes a lot of money from game estates and it has kept me in a decent job all my life. To throw all this away or the sake of a few birds or badgers is idiocy but fortunately most estates know that and have the quality staff and resources to manage the land properly.
To be continued
1 Antis is a term used to refer to anyone opposed to ‘country sports’ and by extension the illegal activities connected to them. Many in the land management community would clasify this blog as ‘anti’ although we actually only oppose criminal behaviour and not legitimate sport.